Monday, October 22, 2018
Book Review: 'The Last Cicada' by R.A. Doty (Edited by Caroline Smailes)
‘Everything held the possibility of an adventure through the eyes of a ten year old.‘
Upstate New York author RA Doty enjoys writing stories of many different genres, including, but not limited to, science fiction, dystopian, thriller, horror, and occasionally Americana, to name a few. Once a story enters his head, regardless of its genre, he is committed to put it to print. THE LAST CICADA is his literary debut but he reassures us that IMMEDIATE EMPIRE, a dystopian tale, will be released soon.
Reading THE LAST CICADA the first question that comes to mind is ‘how can this be a FIRST novel?’ – the writing is so very fine, deals with important social issues, with American history of the last century, explores that tough coming-of-age period part of our lives, familial relationships, all with such polished prose that we usually find among the seasoned writers of the past and present.
Doty is sensitive in selecting the cover photograph of his book, encouraging our mindset to enter the 1960s when this tale takes place, and continues that attention to details of the period of rebellion from the hippie segment and the very real tension of the civil rights movement to the bonding between an outcast and a young lad that brings everything into focus.
As an aside (and for those who have never had the joy of living in the country) the title earns definition – ‘Cicadas are probably best known for their buzzing and clicking noises, which can be amplified by multitudes of insects into an overpowering hum. Cicada Songs. Males produce this species-specific noise with vibrating membranes on their abdomens. The sounds vary widely and some species are more musical than others.’ The importance of knowing that will become apparent.
Doty supplies a fine synopsis on his website – ‘The summer of 1963 is warm. It is also a time when racial tension is exploding across the United States of America, eventually reaching the small town of Porter Mills in upstate New York. But it hadn't reached Caleb Walden, yet, a gregarious ten-year-old white boy who likes most everyone, regardless of the color of their skin. So when Redmond Williams, a black ex-convict, is released from prison and decides to take shelter in an abandoned cabin just outside of town, Caleb is more than happy to make the man feel welcome, despite strong opposition from Hurley Cobbs, his mother's racist boyfriend. As the friendship grows between Caleb and Redmond, so does the tension between the young boy and Hurley. Ultimately, Caleb is forced to decide if he should listen to Hurley and stay away from the ex-con, or risk the safety of himself and his mother to continue the relationship with his new friend. Whichever decision he makes it may cost him his life. The Last Cicada is a novel about friendship and sacrifice, and the choices we all have to make in becoming who we are.’
A brief sample of Doty’s prose – ‘“You’ll be back,” the guard said, snapping his chewing gum just inches from Redmond’s ear. “It’s just a matter of time before you release that rage that got you here in the first place.” Redmond calculated the distance to the door by counting the floor’s alternating black and white tiles — about thirty feet. He knew the shiny tiles were exactly one foot square, because he had replaced many of them throughout Rikers Island Prison in the twenty-years he had been there. “So, what’s the first thing you’re gonna do now that you’re a free man?” the guard asked. “Find yourself a woman? Or maybe you’ll take in a movie, or get yourself some real food. That’s it, ain’t it?” The guard smiled, revealing his yellowed teeth. “You’re gonna get yourself some fried chicken and collard greens ain’t that right, Williams?” Redmond clenched his fist. “There it is,” the guard said, eyeing Redmond’s hand. “You wanna bash my brains in, don’t you? Just like you did to that boy you sent to the cemetery. Like I said, it’s just a matter of time.” The buzzer sounded, and the bars in front of the two men slid sideways. Redmond’s heart throbbed in his ears; the moment he had waited so long for had arrived. This can’t be real. At any moment he would wake in a cold sweat to the sound of grown men whimpering from somewhere in the dark. “Well, go on, boy. You’re a free man now. I ain’t gotta hold your hand no more. That is, lessen you wanna turn around and get back in your cell.”
Every memory of the1960s is recreated – both the fond ones and the terrifying ones, and in placing such finely hewn characters in that environment RA Doty has created a world-class novel. Highly Recommended.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.