Cover image for Chalktown : a novel
Chalktown : a novel
Haynes, Melinda.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hyperion, [2001]

Physical Description:
317 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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From the author of the New York Times bestseller Mother of Pearl, a beautifully crafted and moving story of redemption and renewal set in 1960s Mississippi.

Melinda Hayness "first novel of immense and staggering power" (Pat Conroy, author of Beach Music) was an unexpected sensation, chosen for Oprahs book club and selling more than half a million copies in hardcover. Now in the same devastatingly beautiful language that has won her critical and popular acclaim, Melinda Haynes returns to the country she knows so well -- the backwoods South of the 1960s -- to tell the story of a mysterious town and its inhabitants, each with their own afflictions and joys, each with their own secrets.

In sparsely populated George County, Mississippi, along a quiet dirt road lined by sharecropper houses, lies Chalktown -- a small village of folks who communicate mostly through the chalkboards hanging from their front porches. Down the road lives the Sheehand family: 16-year-old Hezekiah, his reckless sister Arena, his mentally disabled younger brother Yellababy, and their disaffected and often cruel mother, Susan Blair, whose husband has abandoned both the house and the family. One day, with Yellababy strapped to his back, Hez sets out for Chalktown, determined to plumb its mysteries, or maybe just to get away from his shabby homes oppressive atmosphere. And, on that same spring day, the family hes left behind will confront a tragedy that at once erases Hezs bitter past and paves the way for a hopeful future. Armed with a gothic and spiritual sensibility reminiscent of Flannery OConnor, Melinda Haynes weaves her characters lives and stories into an unforgettable tapestry of sorrow and salvation that confirms her place as one of our countrys most exciting and consistently brilliant new writers.

Author Notes

Melinda Haynes grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. A painter most of her life, she now writes full time from her home in Grand Bay, Alabama where she lives with her husband.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Undisciplined floods of off-kilter prose choke this fitfully lyrical second novel of affliction and redemption in early 1960s Mississippi. Haynes, a Mississippi native and author of Oprah-selected Mother of Pearl, knows the country she describes, but where her first novel sailed, this one founders. In the spring of 1961, 16-year-old Hezekiah ("Hez") Sheehand plans to walk to nearby Chalktown, a hamlet where folks are rumored to communicate only by writing on chalkboards. On his back he totes his mentally retarded five-year-old brother, Yellababy. Behind him, Hez leaves his mother, Susan-Blair, a slattern who hits her children; his father, Fairy, who lives in a bus in the yard; and his older sister, Arena, who has run off with a man who pays her to "work on him with her hands." As Hez nears Chalktown, Haynes slips back in time to 1955 to chart the silent community's history. Eerie as it is, the place is strangely soothing, and Hez wishes he could stay a wish that may be granted when Arena's promiscuity drives Fairy to commit a terrible crime. Throughout, Hez's next-door neighbor, Marion Calhoun, a preternaturally good-hearted "colored man," keeps an eye on the feckless Sheehands. The overwritten narrative features a plethora of figures of speech (sometimes mixed to comical effect), occasional anachronisms and awkwardness in establishing point of view. Convincing dialogue, however, hints of miraculous doings, and a happy (albeit not credible) ending for Hezekiah and Yellababy will appeal to readers not deterred by the narrative's surges and lapses. (May 2) Forecast: Mother of Pearl sold more than half a million copies in hardcover, but this uneven follow-up allotted a $100,000 marketing campaign and a 10-city Southern author tour isn't in the same league (nor, likely, will it be blessed with Oprah's seal of approval). Expect a lesser success. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Hezekiah Sheehand is only 16 but weary of life with an abusive mother, absent father, and promiscuous sister. To avoid pursuit by the school's truant officer, he runs away from his rural Mississippi home in 1961, taking his young retarded brother and heading for Chalktown. This mysterious neighborhood is home to loners and misfits who have suffered a literally unspeakable tragedy and only communicate by writing on chalkboards posted in their yards. As Hezekiah plumbs the mysteries of Chalktown and draws its residents out of their tragic past, his father plots an act of vengeance on behalf of his daughter that will forever liberate Hezekiah from his family and their ugly history. Haynes's brilliant debut novel, Mother of Pearl, explored the makeshift families forged by lost, beaten-down people struggling to survive in an indifferent world. Chalktown examines similar themes in an unforgettable tale of sorrow and salvation even for those who do not seek it. Highly recommended for larger public libraries or where Haynes's work is popular. Karen Anderson, Quarles & Brady/ Streich Lang, Phoenix (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.