Odell, Jonathan 1951-
ODELL, Jonathan 1951-
PERSONAL: Born 1951, in Laurel, MS.
CAREER: Author and civil rights activist. Former leadership coach for Fortune 500 companies. Has also worked as a door-to-door salesman.
The View from Delphi (novel), MacAdam/Cage (San Francisco, CA), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Born in 1951, Jonathan Odell grew up in Mississippi during the Jim Crow era and earned the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan as a civil rights activist selling The Ebony Pictorial History of Black America door to door. In his debut novel, The View from Delphi, Odell evokes that world and its rigid social code of race and class distinctions. However, "underlying the social stratification are layers of emotional and relational ties that bring together two women struggling to recover from the loss of their sons," explained Vanessa Bush in a review of the novel for Booklist. One of these women is protagonist Hazel Graham, an Appalachian native who becomes the wife of one of Delphi's leading citizens and slips into chronic alcoholism after her son Davie dies. Unable to cope, she hires a local black girl, Vida, as a maid, and the two gradually form a strong bond. Vida's nightmare begins when the sheriff rapes her; later he attempts to murder their son when he notices the boy's striking resemblance to himself. Vida fakes a funeral for the boy and secretly sends him north, knowing she may never see him again. A Publishers Weekly reviewer stated that the book is a "well-told but familiar and slow-moving story" marred by the "cartoonishly piggish sheriff." On the other hand, Minneapolis Star Tribune reviewer Andrea Hoag called The View from Delphi a "gangbusters debut" and particularly commended "Odell's mercifully light brush strokes rendering the colorful parlance of his youth … as he delivers believable—and not distracting—dialogue."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 2004, Vanessa Bush, review of The View from Delphi, p. 1610.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2004, review of The View from Delphi, p. 293.
Publishers Weekly, May 3, 2004, review of The View from Delphi, p. 170.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), August 8, 2004, Andrea Hoag, review of The View from Delphi.
Jonathan Odell Home Page, http://www.jonathanodell.com (September 29, 2004).
Round Table Reviews Online, http://www.roundtablereviews.com/ (August, 2004), interview with Odell.*