Page 93

Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues

N C L R ONLINE

93

COURTESY OF NORTH CAROLINA COLLECTION PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVES, WILSON LIBRARY, UNC CHAPEL HILL

meeting, Jedidiah suggests that both of them are “word-cursed”; they write and preach “to ease the pressure in the head, just to release the flood” of words (179). Furthermore, Jedidiah states that many of his activities – preaching, drinking, and enjoying women – serve primarily “to take the edge off. To slow the mind down enough just to sleep. To ease the constant flow of words, words, words.” “Like Hamlet?” “Yes,” the Preacher smiles. “People like you and me. We have the Hamlet disease.” (179)

Jedidiah seeks coping mechanisms and shares them with his audiences, whom he believes may have similar needs. He is not a traditional evangelist, but he thinks he offers audiences something they may require. Jedidiah is not without a conscience or values that will appeal to early twenty-first century readers. He includes an African American in his team and rejects overtures from the Ku Klux Klan. When a paramour starts traveling with the team, fleeing domestic violence, Jedidiah protects her and treats her with respect, eventually marrying her. He perceives hypocrisy in the application of Prohibition laws, as upper-class characters drink cocktails with impunity. Jedidiah ultimately becomes moved by the wealthy’s lack of concern for the struggling poor and turns into something of a spokesperson for the disenfranchised.

The broad scope of the novel at times seems to be trying to incorporate and perhaps play with Appalachian local color stereotypes. Emotional revival meetings? Check. Melungeon character? Check. Moonshiners? Check. Corrupt local law enforcement? Check. Mysterious dreams and visions? Check. The latter are primarily Jedidiah’s, adding to the alternative spirituality presented. Though the book does provide thoughtful three-dimensional portrayals of most characters, it also tends to embrace rather than undermine some of these regional stereotypes. Jedidiah’s tailored messages do seem to resonate with his audiences, providing condemnation, comfort, and catharsis when the preacher deems they are needed; he is good with “words, words, words” (179). The whiskey provides escape and relief in a differ-

ent way. The methods characters choose to deal with life become less crucial than people’s need for coping mechanisms. The book is not primarily about religion as much as it is about how humans deal with after the legitimately tragic events of their lives. Because this is the focus, God seems mostly absent from much of the book – until it nears the end. While this review does not intend to provide spoilers, it is worth noting the inclusion blends smoothly in with the rest of the text, bringing a sense of closure rather than an unwelcome intrusion. As a wild and often comic text that nonetheless plumbs the depths of everyday human despair and our need for help to cope, The Holy Ghost Speakeasy and Revival provides clever and complex depictions of its varied characters. Roberts’s provides them meaningful voices. n

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

Advertisement