F. Rutledge Hammes comes to the blog today with a lovely story laden with Lowcountry legend and atmosphere in his debut offering
A Curious Matter of Men with Wings
Bohicket (Bo) Walpole lives in Gullah country – those barrier islands off the coast of South Carolina, with his parents, his brother Lay and his sister Dew. Life is a series of challenges to obtain food, money and the things needed to survive and live in this curiously unique place. When not fishing or doing their chores by mending nets, boats and maintaining the ‘rain barrels’ for freshwater, Bo and Lay are often out playing ‘pirate’ raiding yachts and sailboats moored by tourists for booty: beer, food, fishing gear and occasionally, cash. Dew, being the girl, isn’t allowed to travel with the boys -and they are usually immune to her begging. But one day, she accompanies them on their adventure and everything that could go wrong does. Left to watch the boat and keep quiet – she hears Lay fire off a warning shot to Bo, who is still in the midst of searching the targeted boat for booty. She sees their boat is drifting away from Bo – and reaches up to grab his hand but instead falls into the water, and doesn’t resurface. Frantically searching without luck, Bo and Lay believe that they see the Flying Men leaving the islands with Dew in their arms.
Raised and immersed in the legends and lore of the islands, the boys have heard the stories from their father that came from the Gullah people, people that they trade with for items they need and cannot source, children that they know and have played with, and their remove from the mainlanders mean the Walpoles are not prone to opening up their own lives to mainlanders, let alone sharing secrets or information about the Gullah peoples and their lives. Full of secrets and a touch of legend, we see Bo’s mother dealing with her grief by attempting to follow the flying men with her own homemade wings, we discover the pure perfection of a series of islands that while beautiful, are layered in legends centuries old and how they become the perfect place to redefine and redesign a life, as Bo’s father has done, or even that the mainland doesn’t provide that sense of invincibility and security, or even answers about the flying men that Ley found on the island – everyone on the mainland is vulnerable and different – and he can’t believe that he won’t find Dew, alive and well and with the flying men.
What emerges from this story is the richness and magic that is to be found in isolation, where legends are crafted to provide answers to big questions, or engender a sense of fear into children to keep them close and safe. Hammes is obviously well-versed and familiar with the legends and lore, the place and the manner of storytelling that one could expect from the griots who saw that oral histories of tribes and people are remembered and heard. And as storytelling goes sometimes, the tale is not quite linear- as an element or person seems to take flight and move us to another facet of the story, rolling forward and back with ease, building an atmosphere that is as haunting as it is beautifully nuanced, a real love story to the islands and the people who have survived and thrived, lived lives of great joy and sorrows, but lived on their own terms by their own definition. Perhaps a bit wordy and some of the conversations seem to try too hard to be funny or important, but as a whole, this debut is a new definition of the southern voice in literature and one to be watched.
Title: A Curious Matter of Men with Wings
Author: F. Rutledge Hammes
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism, Multi-Cultural, Southern
Published by: Southern Fried Karma
Published on: 25 September, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Get Your Copy: AllRomance ♦ Barnes&Noble
One day, Bohicket and Ley Walpole take their little sister out on a johnboat to pirate the waterways for beer and loose change. Dew falls overboard and appears to drown, until two men with gigantic wings swoop down and carry her body away into the sky. The news of her disappearance hits the family hard, driving the mother to fashion wings so she can fly after men who took her daughter. The Walpole boys set off in search of their little sister and discover love and the truth behind the centuries-old tale of the Flying Men, as well as numerous other mysteries native to the Carolina sea islands.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: