David Fuller’s debut novel, SWEETSMOKE (Hyperion; September 1, 2008; Hardcover / $24.95), is a triumph. Set on a Virginia tobacco plantation during the American Civil War, it is at once a powerful meditation on freedom and a satisfying literary read. SWEETSMOKE reveals the significance of one seemingly unimportant death amid the chaos of war.
Cassius Howard, a slave, is acutely aware of his powerlessness, but refuses to see himself as a victim. He hones his skills as a master carpenter, endures the horrific treatment of his family, and, through the secret efforts of a freed black woman named Emoline Justice, learns to read. Then Emoline is murdered. Cassius is shaken by her death’s apparent senselessness—why would anyone murder an old woman who told fortunes and took in sewing?—and by the fact that no one else seems to care. As he seeks answers, he finds an unexpected ally in Quashee, a beautiful young slave newly arrived from another plantation; and a formidable adversary in his master, Hoke Howard, whom he has always before obeyed. Cassius realizes he is willing to risk everything to avenge Emoline’s death and discover the truth of her loss. His desperate search for the killer becomes a personal quest for dignity and justice.
SWEETSMOKE is the rare novel that offers new insight into the daily life of a culture. As Kirkus Reviews notes, “Fuller gives us different perspectives on slavery and on the war—we learn about life on the plantation through the slaves themselves, through the privileged life of the owning families and through soldiers who fight not out of loyalty to the Confederacy but to escape dull marriages and the dreariness of domestic life. We also learn of inside maneuvering, of how slaves are pitted against each other to contend for relationships of relative power and prestige.”
In 1862, freedom inspires equal measures of anguish and hope. Fuller’s character-driven narrative and attention to vivid historic detail grants access to that reality. A captivating mystery, SWEETSMOKE leaves an indelible impression of the countless wars raging within our country’s borders.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Fuller attended the Rhode Island School of Design as a painter and graduated from Brown University. A screenwriter for 25 years, Fuller’s credits include the films Necessary Roughness, The Heist, and Gang In Blue. The Ticket, a short that he wrote and directed, was nominated for an Imagen Award. After discovering that his ancestor, Confederate General Turner Ashby, had owned slaves, Fuller researched the Civil War for eight years. He lives in Santa Monica, CA with his wife and sons.