Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Peculiar Tribe of People: Murder and Madness in the Heart of Georgia, by Richard Hutto

In the mode of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but on a lesser scale, Richard Jay Hutto’s A Peculiar Tribe of People: Murder and Madness in the Heart of Georgia (Lyons Press, 2011) delves into the events and people of a murder in Macon , GA, in 1961. Not always effectively written or organized, sometimes burdened by too much detail, the narrative is nonetheless entertaining and interesting. It’s woven from interviews with many of the people who knew the principals in the story, as well as by newspaper accounts and legal documents. Hutto provides much information about the main characters and generations of their family histories. He is as interested in many of the people he interviews as he is in the story itself. Part of the interest of this book lies in the quality of the gossip (much of it documented) it contains—there’s a growing sense of amazement in Hutto’s narrative about the information he presents, as he is often incredulous that people behave as they do.

A Peculiar Tribe of People reminds me of Faulkner’s story about the rise of the Snopes clan in northern Mississippi. That tale, like this one, is a tale of class rivalry and jealousy, of old blood and money vs. new, in which the people resisting the outliers who want to enter into their social class reveal their own prejudices and foibles. Racism plays a role in this story, but mostly it is class conflict, and family.

Many people named in this book have familiar names. The Reynolds family is mentioned, as are, briefly, people from the literary and musical worlds of Macon, including Little Richard, who according to Hutto began his career singing under the name of Princess Lavonne in a lounge known as the Tic Toc Room.