Author: Doug Segrest
Price: $12.29 (Paper)
03/19/2012 Alabamians may know Doug Segrest as a Birmingham-based professional sports journalist and co-host of the talk show "The Zone."
Like many a professional journalist, Segrest has written a novel.
"A Storm Came Up" is set in fictional Takasaw, Alabama, actually Tuskegee. The opening scene, in September of 1958, shows three 12-year-old boys, Brax, Andy and Moses, two white and one black, as they accidentally witness the murder of a young black man in the woods. Two white men drag the victim into a pasture and the man called Keith stabs him repeatedly, fatally. The three friends flee and never speak of it again.
The action then moves to 1963. Braxton Freeman is now a rising senior at the white school and his buddy Moses Burks is at the black school. Both are looking forward to their senior years and have hopes of college football scholarships.
Their plans will be derailed by history. The Takasaw white public school is to be integrated. Moses will be one of a handful to transfer. He will also be a valuable addition to the football team. But Governor Wallace sends the state police to keep the school closed and then signs an order giving white students the opportunity to enroll at an alternative public school of their choice. Takasaw High reopens with only a handful of white students.
The novel follows the desegregation crisis, the white crowds chanting, the Klan marching, black parents angry and worried about their children. Brax's father is on the town's biracial committee. They thought the process could be done peacefully, quietly, but they were wrong.
Characters based, it seems, on Clifford and Virginia Durr make a cameo appearance here, attending a meeting.
Young Brax goes to play for nearby Natsuma High (Notasulga perhaps?) and Segrest does a good job of describing the practices and the games of high school football. This is his strong suit, of course.
This is partly a sports novel but really a race novel. Brax and his family are not racists but their unhappy cousin Andy, raised by a drunk and abusive father, is. Andy joins the Klan.
The action moves in several different strands. Andy participates in Klan violence. Brax plays some football but also has his first romantic adventures, one with the beautiful Katie Sullivan from Mountain Brook. Katie is much more sophisticated than Brax and teaches him how to kiss, but small town Braxton has much more progressive views. Katie's home town has no blacks at all and she would like it to stay that way: "I wouldn't want to go to school with them." On a date, they go to see "To Kill a Mockingbird" in Montgomery, but it does not become a conversion experience for Katie.
In conversation Katie explains she will leave Alabama as soon as feasible. Brax wants to go to University in Tuscaloosa, does, and makes his home in Mobile.
This novel has strengths. The characters are believable; the action moves along; the early murder scene does dominate the ending, as it should. Segrest knows his Lee County.
Segrest chose to self-publish; this is his right and it is more and more common. But this amateur novel is almost worthy of a commercial publisher where editors would have polished it. Those editors would have noticed and fixed irritating errors and typos. At one point a brothel trailer suddenly becomes a tent.
Takasaw/Tuskegee is accidentally placed west of Montgomery. A car stops short and Brax goes into the daze, rather than the dash. Andy answers "yes'm, yes'm," to Keith the Klan chief. Walter Cronkite is given a walrus mustache. Brax grabs his blue jeans off the "Chester drawer." A character complains "Can't I say my peace?"
These glitches are distracting. Segrest's novel is succeeding, moving along, and then the spell is shattered as if the male lead in a ballet, Prince Charming, leaped high into the air and broke wind. The leap is athletic, the dance goes on, but the magic has been disrupted.