For its 10th anniversary, Reavis Wortham’s The Rock Hole has been reissued with a new cover and a forward by Joe R. Lansdale.
In the 1964 the town of Center Springs, (East) Texas a series of increasingly violent animal mutilations takes place. Most corpses are found with a hint that the killer is looking for human prey. Then a grandfather finds footprints under his grandson’s bedroom window…
The Rock Hole features dual protagonists Constable Ned Parker and his grandson Texas Orrin Parker (called Top), who are based on Wortham and his grandfather. The book reflects Wortham’s childhood memories of daily life in a peaceful small town where no one locks their doors, neighbors listen to each other on the party line telephone, and sit on the front porch of the general store swapping gossip and telling stories. It’s so small that Constable Ned Parker’s main job is running his farm with his Choctaw wife, whom everyone lovingly refers to as “Miss Becky.”
There’s also dark side to this idyllic southern life. These are the days of segregation where Blacks are segregated and Indians are treated as inferior to animals. Ned refuses to deal with a business that prohibits “dogs and Indians,” in that order. The Parker family empathizes with black discrimination and Constable Ned treats his black deputy, John Washington, with equality and great respect. Both the black and white communities respect and rely on Mr. John as well as the ancient Miss Sweet and her herbal medicines.
The brilliant narrative alternates between third person (Grandpa) and first person (Top). Top doesn’t quite recognize the personal danger he’s in, even as he describes Grandpa’s investigation. Like many members of his family, Top has a special gift and his is dreaming of the future but in images he can’t understand. As Top’s nightmares become more intense and the size of the mutilated animals increases, the suspense makes the book hard to put down.
Even the supporting characters are portrayed in realistic detail. Like the main characters, I always look forward to seeing what Mr. Ike, Uncle Cody, Mr. John and rest of Center Springs has been up to between books.
As a reader with southern roots, I love the East Texas dialect used by the characters. You don’t need to be fluent in Southern to understand it but, if you are, use of old timey words will tickle your fancy and make you feel like you’re back down home. If some expressions have you baffled, there’s a glossary on Wortham’s web site (http://reaviszwortham.com/).
Cathy Akers-Jordan is a writing instructor at the University of Michigan-Flint where she teaches composition, business communications, and technical writing. She also works with independent study students who are writing fantasy and science-fiction. Her current works-in-progress are crime fiction.