Marshall, Bev 1945-
MARSHALL, Bev 1945-
Born 1945, in McComb, MS; married. Education: Graduated from University of Mississippi and Southeastern Louisiana University.
Southeastern Louisiana Writers Group (cofounder), St. Tammany Writers Group.
Walking through Shadows: A Novel, MacAdam/Cage (San Francisco, CA), 2002.
Right as Rain, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Coauthor of Acts of Discovery, for Southeastern Louisiana University. Contributor to literary journals, including Xavier Review, Potpourri, and Maryland Review. Contributor to anthologies, including Stories from the Blue Moon Café.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
Novels Hot Fudge, Sunday Blues, and E-mailing Pamela.
Bev Marshall began her writing career composing articles for military publications while she traveled with her husband, who was serving in the U.S. Air Force. After three years in England, the Marshalls returned to the United States, and she began submitting short fiction to literary journals. On her Web site, Marshall notes that they now live in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, "just down the road from a caged, live alligator that serves as one of the town's tourist attractions."
Marshall's debut novel, Walking through Shadows, is set in Zebulon, Mississippi in the 1940s South. As the story begins, the central character, seventeen-year-old Sheila Carruth Barnes, is found dead—strangled and left in a cornfield—and as the plot leads to the exposure of the killer, her life is recalled by those who knew her. Sheila was the eldest daughter of an abusive, alcoholic father, and two years earlier she had escaped to work on the dairy farm of Lloyd and Rowena Cotton. She arrived in July 1939 with a sack slung over the hump on her back, a painfully thin girl who brought joy to the lives of others, and particularly to ten-year-old Annette Cotton, who sees a new friend in this young woman who tells her that "you can walk through shadows if you watch the sun and do it just right."
In spite of her handicap, Sheila has sexual appeal, and she and handsome but dim farmhand Stoney Barnes marry and soon are expecting a child. But Annette suspects that Stoney, who truly loves Sheila, may be beating her, just as her father had; Stoney comes from a brutish family of his own. One of the narrators is Leland Graves, a reporter covering Stoney's trial, who becomes attracted to the wife of Stoney's older, and more violent, brother. Rowena's long-repressed anger over an old affair of Lloyd's explodes when the scandal becomes public, and Lloyd admits in his narration his own attraction to Sheila.
Mary A. McCay wrote in the New Orleans Times-Picayune that Marshall "constructs a tangled web of guilt and accusation that is tightly focused and intense. But for all this, the mystery behind Sheila's death pales beside the colorful and intricate chronicles of the lives of the families. Indeed, it is the living and their relationships to the dead young woman that keep the reader engaged in the story."
School Library Journal's Carol DeAngelo called the book "a moving and beautifully written story that has the same authentic feel for a small southern town as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird." In reviewing it for Womenwriters.net, Natasha Whitton commented that "one of the strengths of the novel is its clear characterizations, particularly that of Annette Cotton. From the moment that we meet young Annette, her keen observations belie her ten years." Whitton interviewed Marshall, noting that the character of Annette "has a very mature sense of the world." Marshall replied, "I wish I could take credit for it, but I can't. She spoke to me, and yet of all the characters, she was the one that was the most like me as a child." Marshall had intended that the story be told entirely from Annette's point of view, but on the advice of others, she changed it to include the other voices.
Marshall's second novel, Right as Rain, is also set in Mississippi and spans the period from 1940 to 1968. Tee Wee and Icey are the black cook and housekeeper of white Euylis Parsons. Tee Wee, who has seniority, had hoped that the vacant housekeeping job would go to one of her daughters, but that hope is dashed when Icey, whose husband has abandoned her, arrives with her own children. Tee Wee would seem to have little to envy from the new arrival, except for the fact that Icey knows how to read.
The relationship of these two women is the foundation upon which the story grows. They see each other through good times and bad and help raise each other's children. Icey eventually finds a new man, this time a good man. The children become close. Some leave, others stay. Ultimatley, Tee Wee's daughter, Crow, and Browder, the son of the white family, fall deeply in love, but in 1958, such a love is taboo.
While Right as Rain includes a trial of one of Tee Wee's sons that has racial overtones, Marshall includes light moments too, including a mud wrestling incident involving the two women. A Publishers Weekly contributor, reviewing the novel, noted Marshall's "ability to convey the humanity of all her characters.… Even those stock villains of Southern racism, the sheriff and the district attorney, seem victims of an inherited ethos." Times-Picayune critic Susan Larson commented that "Marshall gracefully blends the historical context of the times with the ongoing lives of these characters—never a heavy-handed moment or false note. Clear-eyed, she gives us both racism and progress, however halting."
Marshall told CA: "The genesis for much of my work is my family. I grew up in rural Mississippi listening to my relatives' stories, rich in detail, humor, and emotion. Many of the storytellers themselves might have qualified for the subjects of a Flannery O'Connor offering. They were farmers, railroad workers, not readers, but my love of reading led me to set down my own versions of these tales and explore my own views of my land and my people.
"Although I came late to my writing career, I was encouraged to pursue writing much earlier when I enrolled in a creative writing class. I was fortunate to study under gifted teachers, Jay Paul and Tim Gautreaux initially, and then later to workshop my novel and short fiction with Douglas Glover, Nicholas Delbanco, and others.
"As a former teacher of literature, I was most influenced by the authors I taught, many of them southern authors, whose views of the world and sujects aligned perfectly with my own. There are far too many to list, but some of my favorites are William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Katherine Anne Porter, Tennessee Williams, Alice Munro, Alice Walker, Ann Patchett, Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, Shirley Ann Grau, Toni Morrison, and numerous others.
"I am continually surprised by my characters who share their lives and stories with me, and I am delighted to discover again and again how generous and supportive authors are. I am grateful to people like Tim Gautreaux, William Gay, Silas House, Tom Franklin, Steve Yarbrough, Kaye Gibbons, Sonny Brewer, and Brad Watson, to name only a few, who have encouraged me and given me the gifts of their talents.
"I do not write with an agenda. In other words, whatever my readers take from my work is not my concern. Naturally, I hope they will be entertained, uplifted, intrigued, or emotionally entangled in the plights of my characters, but it is not my intention to sway their thoughts to my point of view. Mostly, I hope my legacy will simply be that I created good stories and fine characters that shared the lives of my readers for a time."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of Walking through Shadows: A Novel, p. 283.
Publishers Weekly, March 11, 2002, review of Walking through Shadows, p. 53; February 16, 2004, review of Right as Rain, p. 149.
School Library Journal, August, 2002, Carol DeAngelo, review of Walking through Shadows, p. 222.
Times-Picayune, May 5, 2002, Mary A. McCay, review of Walking through Shadows, p. 5; March 28, 2004, Susan Larson, review of Right as Rain, p. 8.
Washington Post Book World, June 20, 2004, Julia Livshin, review of Right as Rain, section T, p. 13.
Bev Marshall Home Page,http://www.bevmarshall.com (October 28, 2004).
Womenwriters.net,http://www.womenwriters.net/ (December 15, 2002), Natasha Whitton, review of Walking through Shadows and interview with Marshall.