23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2005
As a native Southerner, I can say that Melissa Faye Greene is spot-on in creating her characters. Her descriptions of people, places, scenes, sounds, and smells bring everything to life. I find myself saying again and again, "I've experienced that; I know that person." I gave this book to my teen-ager so she would understand why racial politics are what they are in the South; she's now re-reading it -- on her own -- for the third time. Parts of this story will make you laugh out loud; others will make you angry; throughout, there is the human struggle for dignity. If you want to understand the South of the current generation and the one before it, I recommend this book highly.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2001
My mother was born and raised in McIntosh County Georgia. She confirms the truck crash incident along with the Sheriff's drug cartel and other corruptions. She admitted that many blacks in the County looked up to Sheriff Tom Poppel and considered him a good man. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Upon recommendation by a doctor my mother moved home to McIntosh County. I became a citizen of McIntosh County in 1983 and experienced an extreme culture-shock. The housing was inadequate, education was minimum, employment was scarce, race relations were very much segregated and people still spake Gullah. As a matter of fact in 1983 there was a separate prom for white and black students. It is fatally ironic that Thurnell Alston was caught in a drug sting. The truth of the matter is he became a victim of his own circumstance. I visited him in the hospital before he succumbed to cancer. His sons and I were close friends and I never really understood the significance of who he was until I read the book (Praying for Sheetrock) and consider it to be a well-written book for all to read especially citizens of McIntosh County. However because the lack of education exists many in McIntosh County will not read the book. Unfortunately the more things change the more they remain the same.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2006
There are a number of astonishing things about this provocative and evocative history of a remote coastal region of Georgia. Greene's chronicle is not simply an account of the institutional and covert racism that plagued one Southern county. Nor is it merely a biography of an unlikely black leader who led a momentous, peaceful rebellion against the white hierarchy before succumbing (at best) to his own credulity or (at worst) to the very corruption he criticized. Instead, "Praying for Sheetrock" is a composite oral history of a complex, deceptively quiet community during the 1970s and 1980s, where the social norms seemed old-fashioned, even quaint, and where even justifiably disgruntled citizens, both white and black, are restrained equally by an ill-defined sense of fear and by a desire to get along with their neighbors.
At the time of the writing, McIntosh County had been dominated by a corrupt yet efficient, nepotistic yet clever "Old Boy" network, but it was also populated by an impoverished black community that, on the surface, seemed to have been on good terms with the local white authorities all through the chaos of the civil rights struggle. For many years, state and federal authorities suspected that county officials, led by Sheriff Tom Poppell, had been deeply implicated in jury tampering, tax evasion, bribery, illegal gambling, drug-running, prostitution, and even murder. Folks joked that Poppell "was the only sheriff in America who owned four houses, one with an airfield, and all on twelve thousand dollars a year." Yet every attempt by higher authorities (who regularly indicated on their reports that Poppell was to be considered "armed and dangerous") failed to nab the suspects. The victims of their never-indicted yet well-documented activities included tourists on the way through the county to family vacations in Florida as well as the local poor.
The story of how this county eventually entered the late 20th century makes fascinating reading, and Greene's prose is an odd yet refreshing blend of journalism and lyricism. (It was included among the top 100 works of 20th-century American journalism by the New York University School of Journalism.) The reader is repeatedly stunned by her ability to persuade such a wide spectrum of local citizens--rich and poor, white and black, conservative and liberal--to talk at such length and with such honesty. Only at the very end of the book, in the acknowledgments, does it become clear that the author was far from a Janie-come-lately to the scene: she worked at Georgia Legal Services (which provided advice on civil liberties matters for the black community), was a witness to most of the events, and married one of the lawyers featured in the book. Rather than prejudicing her account, her experiences give the events an insider's perspective and make her relative objectivity all the more admirable. In fact, it's safe to say that only Greene could have written this book. And, much like "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (itself set only a few miles to the north), her book manages to look underneath the scandal and the poverty and to reveal much to admire in the gentle camaraderie of these easygoing neighbors.
Above all, "Praying for Sheetrock" reminds us of the courageous heroes who look "upon law, upon the Constitution, as a series of fundamental truths about basic human rights." Those heroes include black community members, young and old, willing to risk everything for those rights; the lawyers who represented and advised them for next to nothing; and the small yet powerful number of local whites who believed that enough was enough. It's an inspiring tale that reminds us that the civil rights struggle is far from over.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2007
Having been born and raised in a small community in south Georgia, I have seen first-hand much of what was described in this book. I found this work to be incredibly interesting and moving. Have attitudes evolved and changed for the better in this area? Yes, fortunately. Are there still traces of this? Yes, unfortunately. But with excellent works such as this, we can only hope that the sad attitudes and discrimination that is so accurately described in Ms. Greene's work will become a part of our distant past.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 1997
What a wonderful work! Melissa Faye Greene has brought together a passion for scholarship and a mellifluous writing style. Darien, Georgia is hardly the place to begin when one studies the civil rights movement in America -- but Melissa Faye Greene shows us the impact of this revolution in rural America, a story too often neglected in favor of stories of urban desegregation. Beautifully written, Ms. Greene elucidates the struggles of blacks and whites to come to terms with a changing social reality, and cast off decades of de facto dictatorial rule by a white aristocracy. In the process, both white and black come to see that what unites them is greater than what divides them, even though what unites them is not always to their liking
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2002
Once I picked this book up, I could not put it down. The way Greene chose to set up this book and play out the story is excellent. She laid out the characters and the scene in such a way to allow the reader to draw their own conclusions to the facts, giving equal voice to all parties. Though the heroes and villians are obvious, she doesn't portray them in a straight forward way. It opens with a complete and thorough description of everything surrounding the actual story, which gives the reader the feeling that they are there - a part of it - before all is said and done. The research she did on the subject to offer a tale told with all sides is commendable. Equally Fascinating and Intriguing!!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2009
Coastal Georgia is a frequent destination for me. Whenever I have to be away from it, I am planning the next time I'll be able to smell the marsh, feel the sand in my shoes and hear the musical voices of the residents. I have been to Darien many, many times, but my first visit was in 1994, long after the initial events in this book took place. Reading PRAYING FOR SHEETROCK was educational, to say the least. What Melissa Fay Greene does in her narrative is show you the different Dariens - the black experience is (or was) far different from the one enjoyed by whites in this historic community.
It is said that there are two sides to every story; in SHEETROCK, there are significantly more than that to be found. McIntosh County is a prism, and the truth is refracted through every possible angle. Greene tries not to take sides. She offers as much of a journalistic approach as possible, starting with the early 1970s and the corruption in the local government, and ending with the changes in the life of Thurnell Alston, the man who, with others in his community, stood up to the status quo.
At times, Greene's writing approaches the poetic. Her use of language is nothing less than stunning. She evokes the true beauty of this part of the world, and reminds me, even in the bleak passages, why I love it so. Few other authors I've read have been so successful in bringing the environment to mind, even when describing the mosquitos and choking dust on a dry day. Almost anyone can write a beautiful sunset; it's a truly excellent writer who can narrate a lack of plumbing and make it interesting.
PRAYING FOR SHEETROCK may not prove to be interesting to everyone who reads it. Those who have ties to the McIntosh County will get the most out of it, I believe, and others may be bored. As someone who loves Coastal Georgia, and American history, I was fascinated.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 1999
This tale hangs about you like Spanish moss--quiet, phospherescent, and pervasive. At first, I wondered where she could be taking me. The characters and anecdotal tales seemed to be jumbled and never forming a conclustion. But I stayed with it; it wasn't until the last 60 pages that it all came together for me and really became rewarding. Greene's writing style and tone is soft, rather like sipping a mint julep--and yes, by the time I finished it, I had "a little color in my cheeks."
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 1999
As I began this book, I was drawn in by the powerful imagery that Green created. This didn't continue throughout the book. It became more of a "he said, then he said, then he said" narrative. The beautiful language that Greene uses vanishes as she gets more deeply into the story. I was intrigued by the politics involved. Not being very politically astute, I was amazed at how the sheriff controlled everything in that county. I was also captivated by the tale of civil rights struggles in backwoods Georgia. This was such an interesting book, but Greene's talent at using language seemed to be subverted by her need to tell the story. This was our book group's topic of discussion for this evening; it made for a lively talk. Next time I'm on my way thru Georgia, I DO intend to drive down 17 thru McIntosh County. I may not stop, though.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2001
That about says it. My uncle from Gerogia remembers the stories of the southern area and the shame of the events. It's hard to determine which is the greater strength - the story itself or the characters. The citizens of Macintosh county override all the obstacles of bigotry, oppression and generations of poverty by simple faith. "When there's nothing left to do but stand, you just stand..." Excellent read.