Part I: Review of Roll The Stone Away: A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse by Author, Ann Hite
I have yet to meet Ann Hite, well, I met her virtually, but I’m not sure that counts. I attended her virtual book reading sponsored by FoxTale Book Shoppe. I could see her, but my camera was acting funny, so she never saw me. We share a mutual friend in author Ray Adkins, who suggested I reach out to Ann, that she would be good fit for what I’m attempting to do with my site—to promote Southern authors. Of course, I’ve heard of Ann Hite. Her novels were on my list to read. They just got pushed up to the front after reading Roll The Stone Away, and I jumped down the Ann Hite rabbit hole this month and read both Lowcountry Spirit and The Storycatcher. I’m glad I waited and read her fiction alongside her new memoir; it really added a unique perspective to understanding and appreciating her work. I hope you enjoy my review. This is part one of a series of three posts about the author, Ann Hite, her new memoir, and memoir writing.
The British measure weight in stones. One pound equals fourteen stones. There are twenty-nine stones or chapters in Roll The Stone Away by Southern author, Ann Hite. By American measurements that is 406 pounds. That’s a lot to carry for one person. Imagine standing on a scale, but rather than seeing your physical weight, you see your mental weight: all the shame pressing down on the scale saying you aren’t good enough, the sins of your family, the secrets you have yet to let go of, your mistakes. It weighs so much more than your actual weight. As I mentioned, each stone is a chapter, but each stone also symbolizes what the young Ann Hite begins to carry as a baby, later through her teens, and finally into adulthood. She carries the weight of what her mother and grandmother inherited, and in turn, they carry what they inherited. I’m not trying to be caddy, but Hite’s family has some Game of Thrones type secrets haunting them and she literally rolls that stone away and reveals them. I’ve read several memoirs and probably my biggest dislike is all the complaining and wallowing. I realize this sounds harsh, but I think the point of a memoir, at least the difference between a memoir and a good memoir, is how the author deals with the truth at the end. For me, a good memoir, and that is what Roll The Stone Away is, must confront, heal, and forgive. Some memoirs don’t get the last two parts, and yes, Hite’s story becomes increasingly heavier and heavier as the truth becomes heavier and harder to tell. However, at the end, Hite releases her stones. She heals and forgives, and reader is left with hope.
The cover features a hummingbird hovering over a flower. It’s lovely. The title itself is a Biblical reference to the tomb of Jesus. Then, your eye travels downward to a statement at the bottom of the cover you simply cannot avoid–A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse–and the book takes on a new hue. You know immediately that tied up in this pretty picture of hummingbirds and flowers is something so ugly you want to cover it up. The cover is quite fitting when you consider the romanticism of the Antebellum South and the ugly history it tried to secret away. Initially, I thought, “I don’t know if I can handle this right now. Abuse is difficult enough, but racism?” That’s the point, though. What do you see when you look racism in the face? You may be surprised to see your own face or your family’s face, as Hite discovers an ancestry not only linked by domestic and sexual abuse but also to racial cleansing and lynching. Her family was present for the lynching of Leo Frank, her great-grandfather served on the jury of Ernest Knox and Oscar Daniels, and was instrumental in segregating Forsyth County. It’s not just a memoir of Hite’s ancestry, but a memoir of the Jim Crow South, the terror of the KKK, and of some of Georgia’s most disturbing acts of violence.
And on that historical note, Hite chose to use footnotes. I thought it an interesting choice in a memoir, but don’t be deterred, because like I said, Hite’s family history is tied up with the South’s history. I could have gone either way, with the text added to the memoir or the footnotes. Do read them. You may begin seeing how your family history it connected to a larger history—politically, culturally, geographically. Those pieces of iconic Atlanta, like Rich’s Department Store, where Ann’s grandmother, Inas, worked have a way of connecting the reader on a deeper level, especially if you grew up in Georgia. I also worked at Rich’s a hundred years ago (sadly now Macy’s), and I lived in Marietta Square, and my sister still resides near the Square. I recognized Joyner Avenue where Ann and her mother once lived in Marietta as well as Holcomb Bridge Road. The landscape has changed over the years, but these road and places still exist, and I can look upon this landscape of strip malls and gas stations and see a little further back now.
One of my favorite quotes from the memoir is as follows: “Each person’s story has a root system that, when examined, unearths more questions than answers.” Hite speculates about how her great-great-grandparents would have felt, constantly questioning, and even forming imaginary stories. In the front of the book there are photographs of various family members, and Hite looks deeply into their eyes, their expressions, and wonders about her great-great grandmother’s, Asalee’s expression: “Little does she know that in twelve years she will die by the hands of her husband…[her expression revealed] mostly resolve, maybe even surrender, as if she had accepted that her life was as good as things would get. But many women in in the early 1900s were photographed with the same expression. It was a trying time, especially in the rural south.” Sadly, this is the history of many women during this time, trapped in marriages of abuse. And yet, domestic violence is very present today and escalating in this time of quarantine. Hite’s personal story reminds us that while it may be easier to obtain a divorce in moderns days, the economic impact on women and children (even today) is epic. Hite doesn’t elaborate too much about her first marriage, but you get the impression she followed in her ancestor’s footsteps and came out the other side. Again, the reader is prodded to move past and heal.
Teachers of creative writing advise to “write what you know,” and Hite took that to heart in her memoir and in her fictional work. She draws from her environment to create her settings. Her fictional works are placed in locales such as Darien and Sapelo Island in South Georgia, a land bloodied by slavery. Her main characters feature the Geechee slaves and haints (ghosts or spirits usually associated with the Old South, typically the Gullah people or Geechees, descendants of African American slaves that resided in the Barrier Islands and Carolina Coast). The spirits of her family, or her haints, are not merely metaphors, but are literally present. Ironically, I find myself reading her works and sadly reflecting on the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was recently shot and killed while taking his daily jog in Brunswick, Georgia. Brunswick is in close proximity to the settings of Hite’s novels. Her fictional work is not simply designed to entertain; her haints are as real as her living characters. They recall our sordid past, although with the recent death of Arbery one must reflect about how far away the past is from our present.
It’s easy to see how Hite developed into a storyteller herself. It started at a young age, listening intently to the family stories, or alone at home with only her imagination: “I began to craft long, intricate stories of a girl—always a girl—on an adventure…Many ghosts were added to the mix. There were the stories my great-aunts told about encountering dead family members…I would work on these stories until Mother’s car came down the gravel drive. She frowned at my “pretending” and said others might think I was imagining things. I was: a whole world.” In her fictional work, the strongest root magic resides in the storycatchers. Hite reminds us over and over again about the power of storytelling; her storycatchers “untangle” stories for others, rectify wrongs, and expose the truth. Hite is the original storycatcher and her words are as strong as any of her characters’ conjure magic, because they have the power to heal.
To learn more about Ann Hite and her literature, please visit her author website: Ann Hite- A Southern Novelist, Storyteller From Birth
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