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.