Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands by Susan Carol McCarthy

October 1, 2009
Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands is a novel, which beautifully turns reality into a piece of fiction. McCarthy has the power “to blend fact, memory, imagination and truth with admirable grace.” She tells us her real-life experience in a small southern town in Florida using Reesa as the narrator. The horrors of racial prejudice are clearly seen in McCarthy's novel, and she shows us how good people can be tainted by generations of hate. Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands blends power with imagination and truth, and it reminds me how important the Civil Rights Movement was to African Americans who never gave up hope in the “war of justice.”
Susan Carol McCarthy, the author of Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands, was born and raised in central Florida. She was inspired to write this novel from real events that took place when she moved to Florida in the 1950's with her family. Her inspiration led her to write another novel True Fires, which also deals with racism in her community and further dives into deeper conflicts. McCarthy won the Chautauqua South Fiction Award in 2003 and best fiction, best novel, and best community novel awards for her debut novel, Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands that has been praised and admired by readers of all ages.
McCarthy's use of first person point of view in this novel serves as a very effective way for readers to understand the narrator's feelings and thoughts. She uses Reesa as the narrator to tell her story. Reesa shows her voice by effectively using stream of consciousness to highlight the conflicts taking place in her small town in Florida. Reesa would often indirectly talk to other characters in the novel like when she says “A truckload of shame on you too” to show how much hate she has toward the KKK leader, Casselton. Her thoughts are italicized to highlight the importance of her emotions and awareness toward Marvin's death. Not only is Reesa's voice incorporated in the novel, but dialogue is present throughout the book to illustrate other characters' personalities and actions that are critical to the novel as a whole. The use of words like “Mistuh” and “Miz” gives a sense of the 1950's time period when African Americans addressed Whites by these names. A lot of the “rough” dialogue incorporated into the novel is sometimes confusing to comprehend, especially when Reesa randomly adds in a lot of her own self thoughts into the story. This writing style is unique in that readers are forced to prow deeper into the narrator's words to discover the meaning behind the book.

The phrase “Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands” is not only the title of the book, but it is also used in a prayer near the end of the novel. This phrase serves as an allusion to “fall of Jericho,” and sums up the novel's theme. The driving force of hope is what keeps Reesa, Luther, Armetta, Warren, and the people who support the Civil Rights Movement on their feet. They looks to God “for the hope that fills” their hearts, and for safety and protection during the times of chaos. Even when the story starts out with Marvin dead and the KKK destroying more houses and property, people in Mayflower never give up. Hope is also what keeps me from giving up on life. Just like Reesa's family, I believe that a good future is waiting for me. The patience, determination, and bravery always pay off at the end, no matter how long it takes.
I was surprised that I was able to connect with a lot of the characters in the novel, especially with Reesa. Her indirect conversations with Marvin show the strong relationship between them. Reesa would say, “Oh, Marvin, I heard it! I listened and I heard. Can you hear it, too, wherever you are?” I can truly understand how tough it is for Reesa to lose a best friend and how hard it is to forget about Marvin's death. Reesa's experiences reveal that life is not always easy. The dialogue present in the novel reveals the different sides and personalities of the main characters. Through dialogue, one can see how daring Reesa's dad is, how intelligent Doto is, and how strong Reesa's mom, who is referred to as “Poker Face” really is internally. Doto is a character who brings light to all the darkness in the story. Her love for “ice cream sundaes” and “pink bed cover sheets” turns the story away from the main conflict to a more peaceful sub-plot. Reesa's mom's “Poker Face” leaves me wondering how Ms. Lizbeth is feeling throughout the whole plot of the story, and it amazes me to see Doto compare Ms. Lizbeth's strength to that of a river's.
McCarthy makes the story interesting by slowly building up tension throughout the novel. The events take place in order of when they happened, instead of jumping around all over the place. The diction is not very complex and hard to understand, but this simple diction is what turns this piece of fiction into a real life scenario. The feeling of hope is implanted everywhere, even toward the very end of the story when Reesa says, “It was Marvin, I remember whenever I smell orange blossoms, who showed me my stripes and gave me his wings.”
This novel, without doubt, should be read by adults, teenagers, and young children. It is an easy novel to read, yet it contains so much meaning behind it. McCarthy has successfully turned a real life conflict into a piece of fiction that is extraordinary. The old Southern town setting, the way people talk in the novel, the rattle snake races, baseball games, and the fight for justice all seem to click together to bring together a complete story. Without the dialogue, readers would not be able to understand what life was like in the 1950's, and the conflict of racism would not seem to be as serious. No matter how boring the title of the book might seem, I guarantee anyone who picks up this novel and starts to read will not want to put it down until he or she finishes the entire book.

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