By – February 2, 2012

The title refers to the old spir­i­tu­al, One More Riv­er to Cross, and the sto­ry lit­er­al­ly takes place near, around, and on the Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er. Two men, father and son, Bernard Levy and Mick­ey Moe Levy, are each dri­ven to extremes for the loves of their lives. The women, a beau­ti­ful black woman and a young Jew­ish woman, are unat­tain­able to the men, but for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. For Bernard in the south of the 1930s and 1940s it is obvi­ous; for Mick­ey Moe Levy, in the 1960s, less so. He must prove to his girlfriend’s par­ents an accept­able Jew­ish blood­line to get per­mis­sion to mar­ry their daugh­ter. Mickey’s fam­i­ly his­to­ry went to the grave with his father in France dur­ing World War II. His quest to uncov­er the long kept secrets leads him into dan­ger­ous ter­ri­to­ry and ulti­mate­ly reveals a for­mi­da­ble, brave, adven­tur­ous father as well as a deter­mined, reli­able son.

With fine craft, piv­ot­ing back and forth in time, the author illu­mi­nates South­ern” Jews. They are rec­og­niz­ably south­ern in a region­al, sec­u­lar man­ner, famil­iar in a cul­tur­al sense, and, all too famil­iar­ly, seen as a group apart. We are with them as their lives pre­cede and then coin­cide with two of the most fought over social issues of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry: the civ­il rights move­ment and the women’s move­ment. The Great Mis­sis­sip­pi Flood of 1927 is both a back­drop for the intrigu­ing plot and a fore­shad­ow­ing of the enor­mous change to come to the South and to the coun­try.


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 etude 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.
Pen­ny Metsch, MLS, for­mer­ly a school librar­i­an on Long Island and in New York City, now focus­es on ear­ly lit­er­a­cy pro­grams in Hobo­ken, NJ.

Discussion Questions

1. The title of this nov­el comes from a famous spir­i­tu­al, One More Riv­er to Cross,” which appears at the begin­ning of the book. What does this evoke for you? 

2. One More Riv­er revolves around par­al­lel sto­ries of two men — father and son — attempt­ing to forge their paths in an uproot­ed, fre­quent­ly hos­tile Amer­i­can South. Did you iden­ti­fy more with Bernard or with Mick­ey Moe? Why? In what ways might each of their jour­neys have been dif­fer­ent if they were under­tak­en today? 

3. Beat­rice Sas­s­aport refers to cues of prop­er behav­ior,” and states that they are nec­es­sary for her social inter­ac­tion — so much so that she invents her own if a sit­u­a­tion aris­es in which she feels lost! How did you feel about Beat­rice Sassaport’s char­ac­ter at the begin­ning — and by the end — of the nov­el? As a moth­er, how does she com­pare to Rose Needleman? 

4. Pater­ni­ty is clear­ly a run­ning theme. How do dif­fer­ent fathers act towards their chil­dren? What was your reac­tion, for exam­ple, to Lot Needleman’s par­ent­ing deci­sions? Which fathers does the nov­el seem to treat most charitably? 

5. He learned that rough men felt fear, that women could bear pain, that a body could watch moon­beams dance on the riv­er and go mad from the sight.” How did Bernard Levy’s lessons dur­ing his first career as a physician’s assis­tant influ­ence his actions lat­er in life? 

6. Bernard was pure besot­ted with Auro­ra Mae.” To what extent does a Jew­ish man’s love for an African-Amer­i­can woman evoke the inter­sec­tion of the Jew­ish and African-Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence in the seg­re­gat­ed South? What ele­ments of these two out­sider” groups relate to one another? 

7. It was nat­ur­al that Horace and Bernard would become best of friends.” In many ways, Bald Horace is the key to unlock­ing the Levy fam­i­ly his­to­ry. How does the rela­tion­ship between Bernard and Bald Horace evolve over the course of the novel? 

8. Auro­ra Mae says to Mick­ey Moe that after the flood, Life belonged to those with a gun and those with gold. We had both.” Do you find inspi­ra­tion in such a self-suf­fi­cient female char­ac­ter? What are your own thoughts on self-defense? 

9. I don’t like guns, he said. Lau­ra Anne looked at him as if he’d just said he didn’t care for sun­shine or bird­song.” How does Lau­ra Anne’s self-suf­fi­cien­cy com­pare with Auro­ra Mae’s? What are the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between these two women? 

10. Ghost and spir­its pep­per the nov­el; as ear­ly as the first chap­ter, Mick­ey Moe recalls Lau­ra Anne say­ing: I like to find out first about the per­son set­tin’ right there in front of me, not all the old ghosts.” How do the char­ac­ters alter their deci­sions or change their lives because of such ghost­ly influence? 

11. Women of col­or are often described, by the nar­ra­tor and oth­er char­ac­ters, as seers, witch­es, prog­nos­ti­ca­tors, or even mod­er­ate­ly gift­ed mete­o­rol­o­gists. Why do you think this is? 

12. The major­i­ty of One More Riv­er takes the form of a quest for legit­imiza­tion of iden­ti­ty and pater­ni­ty, but the ques­tion of iden­ti­ty turns out to be unpre­dictable. Bernard’s iden­ti­ty is faked, as is Moe’s pater­nal good blood.” Pater­ni­ty, rela­tions, and blood” are impor­tant to many of the char­ac­ters, such as Lau­ra Anne’s par­ents. In what ways does this issue of good blood” still come up in today’s society? 

13. Mick­ey Moe con­vinces Lau­ra Ann to lie to her par­ents with the exam­ple of his father’s decep­tions. Look at the lies he had to tell to find love and then pro­tect it,” he says. Was he wrong?” Giv­en the Needle­mans’ bias, do you think Mick­ey Moe and Lau­ra Anne are ulti­mate­ly jus­ti­fied in deceiv­ing them about his back­ground? Do you think that sin­cere love can excuse some dishonesty? 

14. Viet­nam book­ends Mick­ey Moe’s nar­ra­tion and the entire nov­el. Why might Viet­nam have been cho­sen? Does a casu­al­ty or death dur­ing war lend a cer­tain hon­or and dig­ni­ty to men whose lives might oth­er­wise have been con­sid­ered sor­did or disin­gen­u­ous? What oth­er con­nec­tions exist between Viet­nam and con­di­tions in the Amer­i­can South dur­ing the novel’s time peri­ods (ear­ly 1920s and 1960s)? 

15 If you were to post a two-sen­tence review on your Face­book wall or else­where, what would it say? Are there any pas­sages that you’ve high­light­ed in the nov­el that you’d like to dis­cuss with the group? 

16. If you’ve read Mary Glickman’s pre­vi­ous nov­el, Home in the Morn­ing, how does this work com­pare to its pre­de­ces­sor? In what ways does One More Riv­er fur­ther the explo­ration of South­ern-Jew­ish iden­ti­ty that was intro­duced in Home in the Morn­ing?