‘Riveting beginning to the last perfect word’
“I have been to hangings before, but never my own.”
These are the opening lines of Hillsborough author Nancy Peacock’s new book “The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson.”
The time is 1875 and the book’s main character, Persy Wilson, is writing down his life’s story while awaiting his execution for murdering his former master and kidnapping and raping the master’s “wife,” who is also Persy’s former lover.
But there is more, according to famed author Lee Smith, who writes that from the “riveting beginning to the last perfect word, Nancy Peacock grabs her reader by the throat and forces him to hang on for dear life as the action moves from a Louisiana sugar plantation to life among the western Comanches, bringing to blazing life her themes of race and true love caught in the throes of history. ‘The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson’ is as deeply moving and exciting an American saga as has ever been penned.”
Back to 1875 and the little town of Drunken Bride, Texas, where Percy Wilson contemplates his upcoming hanging and writes, “Still it should be some comfort to me, that except for the noose around my neck, and the drop that will take my life, I know exactly what to expect two days hence. I know there will be a crowd like there always is at a hanging; picnics, baskets lined with check¬ered cloths, the smell of fried chicken, and the noise of children. There will be, like there always is, a preacher, and a group of white women dressed in black, singing me to their god.
“I expect the day of my execution to be a beautiful day. It hasn’t rained lately, but that could change. Some old Indian could show up, do a rain dance, and the whole thing might be postponed. I doubt it though. I’ve never seen a hanging rained out. It seems to me like the white god smiles on a hanging, just like he smiles on making money.”
The New York Times named Peacock’s first novel, “Life Without Water,” one of its Notable Books. North Carolina Bookwatch featured her memoir, “A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning, and Life,” about her experiences making a living cleaning other people’s houses.
Her list of her other jobs should make us hope there will be more books based on her list of experiences: “Newspaper delivery, waitress, clerk in three different drug stores, clerk in a hardware store, locksmith, carpenter, bartender in five different bars, cocktail waitress, clerk in two different grocery stores, exercise instructor, milker on a dairy farm, stall mucker at a horse farm, bread delivery, farm worker, baker, assistant drum maker, costumer, painter, housecleaner, packer (packing people's belongings), writer, and teacher.”
In the meantime, in “The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson,” she has given us what could turn out to be her best book ever and this summer’s most provocative and enjoyable read.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch. Today’s guest is Wiley Cash author of “A Land More Kind than Home.”