Fic­tion

Home in the Morning

By – December 5, 2011

The Sas­s­aports of Guil­ford, Mis­sis­sip­pi are an estab­lished South­ern Jew­ish fam­i­ly thrown into the tumul­tuous civ­il rights move­ment of the 1960’s. They guard fam­i­ly secrets, strug­gle with racial and famil­ial rela­tion­ships, expe­ri­ence North­ern vs. South­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties, and grow into change.

Thought­ful, kind, and gen­tle­man­ly Jack­son Sas­s­aport is the cen­tral fig­ure of Home in the Morn­ing. His com­ing-of-age sto­ry and lat­er life serve as the book’s cat­a­lyst as he learns to attune him­self to a tri­ad of spe­cial and dif­fer­ent women.

There is his demand­ing and very South­ern moth­er, Mis­sy; his coura­geous North­ern wife, Stel­la, and Kather­ine Marie, the black woman who has imprint­ed her­self on his heart and mind. Jack­son must also deal with his fiendish broth­er, Bub­ba Ray, his sto­ic physi­cian father, and the extend­ed Sas­s­aport clan. These char­ac­ters inter­act with ser­vants, friends, towns­peo­ple, red­necks, activists, and those Yan­kees, with their typ­i­cal provin­cial­ism.” Through them, Mary Glick­man cre­ates a sto­ry of love, hate, friend­ship, and healing. 

Glick­man, who was born Catholic, is a con­vert to Judaism. She now makes her home in the South, and skill­ful­ly reveals her under­stand­ing of South­ern cul­ture. She draws the read­er into her sto­ry­telling through the use of back­sto­ry, his­to­ry, and intrigu­ing­ly believ­able and flawed char­ac­ters. She cap­tures the details, mood, and events of a place and time. Read­ing Home in the Morn­ing pro­vides a his­to­ry les­son in black-white rela­tion­ships, South­ern Jew­ish cul­ture, and the Civ­il Rights Movement.

The fre­quent flash­backs are tempt­ing­ly offered and give clar­i­ty and under­stand­ing to the char­ac­ters as their sto­ries devel­op and bisect. There are no quo­ta­tion marks in this book, but this does not dis­tract or ham­per the read­er. In fact, it is hard to stop read­ing as the sto­ry begs to be unfolded.

Inter­view

by Reni­ta Last
Reni­ta Last: The char­ac­ters in Home in the Morn­ing and One More Riv­er have such strong dis­tinct per­son­al­i­ties. Did you use any role mod­els in creati ng these well-defined men and women?
Mary Glick­man: I don’t think I had spe­cif­ic role mod­els in mind, but I’ve always been att ract­ed to peo­ple who are capa­ble of pas­sion­ate devo­tions to caus­es and oth­ers. I admire those peo­ple with strong pas­sions and high ideals. Per­haps they have a fool­ish and a coura­geous will to love and live hon­est­ly. In my mind, when such men and women come togeth­er and come up against life’s cru­el real­i­ties, that’s when you have great dra­ma born. Some­times they’re crushed, but they retain their nobil­i­ty and some­times they suc­ceed. I love peo­ple like this.

RL: Your book titles are tak­en from spir­i­tu­als. Why?
MG: One of the rea­sons I use spir­i­tu­als for the titles is that, for me, it empha­sizes the con­nec­tion of Jew­ish and African-Amer­i­can lives in the South as well as their being an impor­tant cul­tur­al touch­stone. Jack­son tells Li’l Bokay on their fate­ful truck ride togeth­er that, You can’t grow up in the South with­out learn­ing a spir­i­tu­al or two.” That’s pret­ty much true. There are no set in stone lyrics for spir­i­tu­als. Tra­di­tion­al­ly they are meant to be an impro­vi­sa­tion on a theme where a wor­ship­per is sup­posed to get up and burst into song with his own soul-felt imprint on the lyrics. This aspect of spir­i­tu­als also impressed me when talk­ing about a cul­ture that is fixed in many ways, a cul­ture obsessed by his­to­ry and how an indi­vid­ual comes to live inde­pen­dent­ly with­in it. That res­onat­ed for me. In the spir­i­tu­al, Home in the Morn­ing, the singer takes old sins, puts them on the shelf, and shakes him­self and that rings to me of the Old South-New South tran­si­tion.

RL: Why are the themes of love, fam­i­ly, friend­ship, and loy­al­ty so impor­tant to you?
MG: With­out loy­al­ty love is mean­ing­less. As far as I’m con­cerned it’s a car­di­nal virtue. To be loy­al requires self-abne­gati on and courage. It’s not the same thing as even being 100% faith­ful or sup­port­ive. But loy­al­ties con­flict and crises define which loy­al­ty is stronger. That’s why I like to put my char­ac­ters in extreme sit­u­a­tions to test them. It’s very easy to delude one­self about one’s attach­ments until push comes to shove. Friend­ship is very impor­tant to me. One thing I want to talk about are rela­tion­ships that last for­ev­er despite con­flict and trou­bles along the way. Fam­i­ly mem­bers die, spous­es die, and you are left with your friends. You need friend­ships for a life well lived.

RL: Your books beau­ti­ful­ly evoke time and place through abun­dant descrip­tive lan­guage and detail. How impor­tant are South­ern speech and sto­ry­telling in your writ­ing? Is there any spe­cif­ic rea­son you don’t use quo­ta­tion marks? 
MG: South­ern speech is mag­nif­i­cent. I love the way South­ern speech lilts, the way it ris­es and falls. There’s a dis­tinct cre­ativ­i­ty of metaphor that I haven’t seen in oth­er parts of the coun­try or it doesn’t hit me where it counts. It’s a spring­board, an inspi­ra­tion for me. When I start­ed Home in the Morn­ing I had this idea that I want­ed it to sound like an oral nar­ra­tive. As if some­one were telling you a sto­ry on the front porch or by the fire­place. When some­one tells you a sto­ry you don’t need them to be hold­ing up their fi ngers mak­ing quote marks to tell you who is speak­ing. That idea intrigued me. It also allowed me to use pat­terns of speech that are not real­ly cor­rect in for­mal nar­ra­tive. I thought I could cap­ture the South­ern méti­er much bet­ter this way.
RL: What first inspired your inter­est in Judaism? Where does your under­stand­ing of Jew­ish cus­toms and tra­di­tions come from?
MG: I was always drawn to Judaism; even as a small child I was very much attract­ed to the Tanach. I remem­ber as a young girl being taught by the good sis­ters who said that faith is a gift. When I got to be an ado­les­cent I real­ized I didn’t get the gift , but my moth­er instilled in me a strong spir­i­tu­al need. Joseph Camp­bell says reli­gion is a music that speaks to the soul and Judaism was my soul’s music. It was no inci­den­tal air or étude in a minor key. Judaism wasn’t the only reli­gion I investi gat­ed to sat­is­fy my innate needs, but it was where my soul’s poet­ry lay. I dis­cov­ered the great Jew­ish writ­ers and they struck a sym­pa­thet­ic chord in me. You could say the beau­ty of Tal­mu­dic log­ic and metaphor were first put to me by these writ­ers of fiction.
RL: The posi­ti on of Jews in South­ern soci­ety, the dif­fer­ences between North­ern and South­ern Jews, and the tumul­tuous 1960’s are vivid­ly pre­sent­ed in Home in the Morn­ing. What is impor­tant for North­ern Jews to know about South­ern Jews? What is the Yan­kee provin­cial­ism” you refer to? 
MG: I start­ed out by want­i­ng to write about the South. I want­ed to break that enor­mous wall of the red­neck stereo­type. When asked about Yan­kee provin­cial­ism” I think about the fact that most of our great Amer­i­can writ­ers were South­ern­ers. I also start­ed think­ing about impor­tant dif­fer­ences between the South­ern and North­ern Jew­ish expe­ri­ence. I think the North is very insu­lar, but has an intel­lec­tu­al sophis­ti­ca­tion. North­ern­ers are gen­er­al­ly igno­rant about how the South works and its val­ues and cul­ture. South­ern Jews have a long his­to­ry of accep­tance in the South and were more wel­come in the dom­i­nant soci­ety. They were well entrenched and accept­ed, by and large, with­out com­ment. They also shared a com­mon cul­ture with South­ern blacks. I also real­ized race is the great Amer­i­can sin. It is our orig­i­nal sin and should be the great Amer­i­can lit­er­ary sub­ject. I’ve been fas­ci­nat­ed by try­ing to mix all these ele­ments together. 
RL: How do you think South­ern­ers per­ceive Jews now? Do Jews still heed Bernard Levy’s grandfather’s warn­ing to nev­er for­get you are a Jew?”
MG: In the South, like any­where else in the world, we tend to get the fin­ger point­ed at us in peri­ods of cri­sis. I don’t think it does Jews any­where well to for­get they are a Jew no mat­ter where they are. To for­get that imper­ils us all. It is a tru­ism of life. There hasn’t been a peri­od of his­to­ry Jews haven’t been dis­crim­i­nat­ed against. I wor­ry about young Jew­ish kids who don’t even have a cul­tur­al identity. 
RL: Home in the Morn­ing and One More Riv­er are tied togeth­er by plot and char­ac­ters. Will your future writ­ings be about the South? What are you work­ing on now? 
MG: I have a work­ing title for my next book, Women Alone, and I am using some char­ac­ters from both my nov­els. I real­ized I have sev­er­al women char­ac­ters who spend sig­nif­i­cant peri­ods of time with­out a man. The ways that these women cope and sur­vive with their lives alone are diff erent because the cul­tur­al demands are diff erent in dif­fer­ent eras. I want to explore what hap­pened to these women dur­ing these times. I’m not far along, but I’m think­ing about how I’ll knit them togeth­er. I plan to keep writ­ing from my unique per­spec­tive as a South­ern Jew.

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has long coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Record­ingSec­re­tary. She cur­rent­ly holds the post of Pro­gram Coor­di­na­tor. She has vol­un­teered at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Open Road Media

1. Mary Glick­man states that typ­i­cal Yan­kee provin­cial­ism” inspired her to write Home in the Morn­ing. What do you think she meant by this?

2. The cen­tral char­ac­ter, Jack­son Sas­s­aport, is a South­ern Jew raised by an author­i­tar­i­an physi­cian father and an eccen­tric, stub­born moth­er in a small town out­side Jack­son, Mis­sis­sip­pi. He’s described as good and humane yet tone deaf to the suf­fer­ings of the African Amer­i­cans around him. Why do you think Glick­man made him the heart of Home in the Morning? 

3. From ear­ly on it’s clear that Jack­son has strong feel­ings for Kather­ine-Marie, a poor local African-Amer­i­can girl. What does his rela­tion­ship with her represent? 

4. Jackson’s life is in many ways a strug­gle to please three very dif­fer­ent women: his tra­di­tion­al South­ern Jew­ish moth­er, his out­spo­ken Jew­ish wife from the North, and Kather­ine-Marie, his more reserved child­hood friend and life­long love. What does this tri­umvi­rate represent?

5. One of the great themes of Glickman’s per­son­al life is trans­for­ma­tion and con­ver­sion: She con­vert­ed from Catholi­cism to Judaism, and moved from the North to the South. How do you think this theme affect­ed and informed Home in the Morn­ing?

6. Home in the Morn­ing cen­ters on a South­ern Jew­ish fam­i­ly on the cusp of the civ­il rights move­ment. What do you think Glick­man is say­ing about the dif­fer­ence between South­ern Jews and North­ern Jews?

7. Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty is a strong part of Glickman’s iden­ti­ty and per­son­al jour­ney. How do you see this reflect­ed in her prose? 

8. The civ­il rights move­ment oper­ates as the main back­drop of Home in the Morn­ing. Why do you think Glick­man chose this time peri­od? What about it res­onates in today’s world?