In his arresting novel, A Seeping Wound, Darryl Wimberley forcefully chronicles life in one of the many slave camps of the rural American South in the early twentieth century—a place of persistent violence and evil, though it also hosts moments of human kindness. Martha Longfoot is the story’s narrator, a half Muskogee Indian raised in the camp. She is also the camp’s medicine woman, a hard-won status that keeps her safe from the sexual violence that pervades the place. Martha comes across as a character with dimension who is worthy of respect. Her robust narrative, enhanced by her powerful vocabulary and occasional biblical references, is compelling, if it sometimes strains credulity. She begins the book angry and distrustful of white people, and ends the tale by saving white folks who are unjustly enslaved. Martha brings some closure to the experience by asking “Why does one wound heal while another festers?”
Other characters in A Seeping Wound are less complex, including the ruthless Captain Riggs, who runs the turpentine camp. This man, and the thugs working for him, are predictably violent, uncaring, cruel, and unchanging. Veteran Prescott Hampton, though, shines, and he is set up in the narrative as a contrast to Martha, as a camp outsider. He comes from New York searching for his sister and brother-in-law, who are enslaved in the turpentine camp. Where Martha is poor, uneducated, and surprisingly literate, Hampton is educated and comes from a financially comfortable family headed by his father, a journalist. But, Hampton and Martha are commonly flawed—each suffers from a seeping wound that must be healed. Wimberley adroitly uses this wound image as both a cause of pain and a source of productivity, whether in a pine tree being tapped for sap or a human gashed by the vicissitudes of life.
Historically accurate, A Seeping Wound is a dark story of human cruelty, and an ode to the preeminence of the human spirit. – JOHN SENGER
I need me a will!
Darryl Wimberley’s narrative is no mere tall tale but a full-fledged novel, with details so vivid, you can smell the wood shavings…
Somewhere in an ancient stand of timber comes a request from an aging lumberjack. “I need me a will,” Paul Bunyan informs his camp’s scribe and bean-counter. “But a will ain’t just a will, Johnny. It’s a testament, too. What a man wants folks to remember ’bout hisself.” And so it begins, the story of Paul’s life resurrecting characters like Sourdough Sam and Shot Gunderson along with members of the Potawatomi and Ojibwe tribes whose dreams predict the legend of Bunyan and his blue-hided ox. The deep woods are redolent with beauty and mystery, but also peril. Paul is forced into a dreadful contest with Swede Sturleson, a timber baron emblematic of The Gilded Age. Paul will not emerge unscathed in the course of that long encounter. But something gets born in the interim, something akin to myth or hope, and in that place Paul Bunyan stands without exaggeration.
“What more is there to know about Paul Bunyan? Plenty, from the logging camps of the late 1800’s to the start of mechanized tree harvesting–and the giant of a man who spanned it all. Darryl Wimberley’s narrative is no mere tall tale but a full-fledged novel, with details so vivid, you can smell the wood shavings. Along the way are a band of colorful characters like Sourdough Sam and Shot Gunderson, and a bitter feud with a lumber magnate who wipes out (almost) anyone who crosses his path. ‘A logger’s life is magnificent and obdurate and stark,’ Wimberley notes, but Paul’s accomplishments are feats of true daring, and this account gets it all down on the page.”—David Galef, author of My Date with Neanderthal Woman