Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review: Rising Road

Rising Road Book Cover
Rising Road:  A True Tale of Love, Race and Religion in America, by Sharon Davies, is a bit of a misnomer.  At least, in my opinion.  I noticed no love involved in the story.  Nor was race really a huge factor in the way I thought it would be.  It was almost entirely about religion.

Rising Road documents a murder trial in 1920s Alabama.  Father Coyle was murdered on his front porch, in full view of several bystanders, by a Methodist minister, Edwin Stephenson.  Earlier that day, Coyle had presided over the marriage of Stephenson's daughter, Ruth, to a Catholic Puerto Rican.  Stephenson found out, took his gun, and shot Coyle.  Then he went to trial for murder, pleading not guilty by reason of insanity and claiming that he shot Coyle in self-defense.

Davies spends time setting up her story, describing Ruth Stephenson, Father Coyle and Ruth's racist and very cruel-sounding parents.  She also gives us history about the lawyers involved, some history on Birmingham, Alabama, the Ku Klux Klan, and then recounts the case for readers.

There is a lot of interesting information presented in this book- more and more, I am learning about the many layers and intricacies that prejudice and discrimination have.  In the 1920s, there was racism against immigrants.  There was religious discrimination against Catholics.  There was a ridiculous fear of Catholics taking over the country and turning it into a Papal state.  It seems as though Americans disliked everyone, and that people in Alabama disliked "others" more than anyone else.  It was horrifying to read about how these sorts of prejudices seeped through to the judicial system and permeated every aspect of life.

However, I don't think this book reached me the way I expected it to.  Davies seemed not to have as much documentation about the trial's principal players as she would have liked.  So she would speculate.  "This might have happened."  "Mr. Stephenson may have known at this time that..."  "Ruth must have felt..." etc.  This may be a small thing, but it made me feel that Davies was projecting her own reactions and thoughts onto real people, which always worries me in non-fiction.

Also, though this trial was fraught with all kinds of tension (though I can't believe it hit on "love," as mentioned in the book's title), the writing was very dry.  Again, I think documentation was the issue.  We never know how the trial lawyers feel about the case.  We don't know how Coyle's sister or the Catholics in the city felt.  Or what Edwin Stephenson or his defense lawyers (one of whom would go on to become a Supreme Court justice) thought and how they reacted to certain facts that came out.  We just know what the newspapers said and what was transcribed during the trial itself.  This, to me, made every person in the book flat and one-dimensional.  I didn't know what drove them or made them passionate.  I didn't even know if they felt anything about the case.  Did they think it horrible that a Methodist minister killed a Catholic priest?  Or were they happy that there was one less Catholic in the city?  I don't know.  I couldn't tell.  I think this book would have been a lot stronger if I had some idea of what motivated the principal players to act as they did.

And that is what ultimately made this book disappointing to me.  It was good to read about the prejudice that existed at the time, but I can't help thinking that a different book would have given me a better gauge of American life in the 1920s than this one did.  Ultimately, this left me unsatisfied.

I received this book for free to review as part of the Amazon Vine program.


  1. This sounds fascinating. I love reading about this period. Great review.

  2. This is how you know I'm from Louisiana and not Alabama: I read that a Methodist shot a Catholic priest and thought, Ruh-roh, that Methodist is going to be the demon of the parish. :P

    I love books about trials, but I think it sometimes can be difficult to make them interesting. Whereas I find just the straight trial transcripts to be fascinating: you get all the facts, but it's very bare-bones, and you're sort of left to imagine what else happened.

  3. This is something I have noticed whilst reading about Alabama - racism seems to be more of an issue in Alabama during the 20's and 30's than any other part of America. I don't know if it is just the books that I have picked up, but so far the with the ones I have read, racism seems to be a main theme.

  4. The book does sound interesting, but I often find the same problem with historical non-fiction - it can be very dry! I'll keep this one in mind but won't rush to pick it up. Thanks for the review!

  5. I can't say I got that inspired to read it either by reading what it was about. Not for me

  6. Intriguing. I also find this time period fascinating but I agree there are books that answer questions and books that only give you more!

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  7. Diane- It IS a fascinating period. I have gotten more interested in the years between the wars lately.

    Jenny- I have never read a straight transcript, but I can see how it would be very intriguing, having to fill in the blanks!

    Vivienne- I have noticed and wondered that, too. It seems because of the KKK, that it pops up more in AL than elsewhere...

    S. Krishna- I actually think historical non-fiction is fascinating! But I've always been a history fan :-) This one was just dry to me.

    Blodeuedd- No, don't think this is your kind of book.

    Amused- Thank you for the award!

  8. Sorry this one didn't work for you. To be honest, it doesn't sound like something I would enjoy at all. The fact that the author speculates so much about what the characters are feeling and thinking would probably make me a bit mad as well. I also find it weird that the title doesn't fit the book at all. I give you a lot of credit though, because I probably would not have gotten all the way through it!

  9. What a pity about the dry writing and the speculations (those tend to drive me nuts in non-fiction)! What you said about it portraying the many layers and angles of prejudice in all their complexity really appeals to me.

  10. This sounds like an interesting case. It's a shame it didn't offer more insight into the emotions and motivations of the people involved. For me, that would probably raise more questions than it answered. Excellent review!

  11. Zibilee- She actually explains the title in the beginning of the book. It's taken from an Irish blessing, and she says why she used it. It's a nice reason, but yes- has nothing to do with the book :-)

    Nymeth- Yes, it was interesting to see, especially now when things are more based on race or sexual orientation than religion. But I guess you always have to hate what's right in front of you...

    Stephanie- Yes, there was just something missing for me. But it looks like on Amazon, others really liked the book, so maybe it was just my interpretation!

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  13. This sounds really interesting! I just found your blog and I am so glad I did! Looking forward to reading more of your reviews!


  14. Lisa- Thank you!

    Lauren- Thank you for visiting. I really like your blog, too!

  15. The premise sounds fascinating, the execution not so much. May have to pass on this one, ah well, it whittles down the TBR :-)

  16. Interesting theme, but I agree with April, the execution doesn't seem so great. Anyway, wonderful and honest review. Thanks!

  17. This type of book is one that would draw me in. It's too bad it wasn't better written. I think I would have been disappointed at the lack of depth into the thinking and reactions during that time period.

    I just started reading a book about a former skinhead who now is on the lecture circuit, teaching about hate and intolerance. I'm looking forward to getting more into it--as well as expecting to get angry.

  18. This book might not be for me. Thanks! for the review.


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