Famous All Over Town

  • Review
By – February 5, 2015

This nov­el spans the 1960s to the 90s in the small city of Som­er­set, South Car­oli­na — a fic­tion­al ver­sion of Beau­fort, the author’s home­town. In a wit­ty, even snarky report­ing style, Schein tells the sto­ry of the col­or­ful res­i­dents as the seg­re­gat­ed place pro­gress­es through the civ­il rights and Viet­nam War era to the late twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry’s eco­nom­ic boom and gentrification. 

Somerset’s racist white sher­iff, Hoke Coo­ley, has a long-term, adul­ter­ous relation­ship with local Negro broth­el own­er Lila Trulove, which results in a mixed race half broth­er, Dri­ver, for Lila’s daugh­ter, Eliz­a­beth. The girl is a bril­liant but taunt­ed pio­neer­ing” black child attend­ing the all-white junior high school. 

Oth­er Som­er­set denizens include Jack McGowan, a haunt­ed, guilt-rid­den USMC drill sergeant who caused three young lives to be lost and can’t remem­ber doing it, since the mur­der was per­pe­trat­ed by his alter ego; Bert Levy, Jack­’s psy­chi­a­trist, a for­mer New York­er, who uses intense regres­sion ther­a­py to uncov­er and try to heal Jack­’s deep-root­ed issues, and Mur­ray Gold, Bert’s friend, an at­torney and fel­low Jew. Levy and Gold can only play golf as coun­try club guests in this Bible Belt town. Real-life best-sell­ing author Pat Con­roy makes an appear­ance as Eliz­a­beth’s inspir­ing school­teacher, who invites her to be a reporter for the school news­pa­per. Accord­ing to the pub­lish­er, Mr. Con­roy is an actu­al edi­tor of this book. 

Schein intro­duces each chap­ter with an old fash­ioned, telling” title and sec­tions the book by years. The read­er fol­lows each char­ac­ter through thir­ty-plus years of inter­con­nect­ed polit­i­cal, famil­ial, and neigh­bor­ly inter­ac­tions. There is much love in this sto­ry despite the harsh cir­cum­stances. One can absorb the south­ern pace and rhythm of the author’s sto­rytelling with its real­is­tic-sound­ing dialogue.

Relat­ed content:

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams, mom, grand­mom, avid read­er, some­time writer, born in Havana, raised in Brook­lyn, resid­ing in Long Beach on Long Island. Long­time for­mer One Region One Book chair and JBC liai­son for Nas­sau Hadas­sah, cur­rent­ly pre­sent­ing Inci­dent at San Miguel with author AJ Sidran­sky who wrote the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion based on her Cuban Jew­ish refugee family’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. Flu­ent in Span­ish and Hebrew, cer­ti­fied hatha yoga instructor.

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