“I have been to hangings before, but never my own.”
These are the opening lines of Hillsborough author Nancy Peacock’s novel “The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson.”
The narrator, Percy Wilson, continues, “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 checkered 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.
The time is 1875 and the book’s main character, Percy 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 Percy’s former lover.
But there is more, according to famed author Lee Smith, who wrote 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 Comanche, 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.”
The New York Times named Peacock’s first novel, “Life Without Water,” one of its Notable Books. Her memoir, “A Broom of One’s: Own: Housecleaning,” about her experiences making a living cleaning other people’s houses gained widespread for making her readers share her time of sometime humiliating work. As good as her earlier work has been, Percy’s story is my favorite.
Peacock self-published a version of the book three years ago. It got the attention of a major publisher, Simon and Schuster, which released the new version earlier this year, and it is gaining the attention it deserves.
A selection for the opening chapter is available online at http://bit.ly/2nFn3QF
EDITOR’S NOTES: D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch” on WUNC-TV. This week, Nancy Peacock talks about “The Life & Times of Persimmon Wilson” on Bookwatch Sunday, April 16 at noon and Thursday, April 20 at 5 p.m.