Praying for Sheetrock Essay - Critical Essays

Melissa Fay Greene

Praying for Sheetrock

Melissa Fay Green worked with the young legal-aid lawyers who came to Georgia in the early 1970’s with the express intention of effecting justice in the lawless rural South. Idealistic, committed, often radical, they found that, indeed, Georgia’s counties were ruled by law, but often one not entirely sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution. No indication is given in this book of Green’s competence as an attorney, but it gives hard and clear evidence that she is writer of uncommon talent.

Employing such novelistic devices as short, descriptive narratives to explain a point or situation and imagined retellings of events, the author has absorbed, possibly from the very people she interviewed, enough of the idiosyncratic Southern tradition of tale-telling that her book is a good, moral read. She tells the story of McIntosh County, a poor coastal region where until the 1970’s blacks and whites lived in relative harmony. Due to the corrupt machinations of sheriff-for-life Tom Poppell, McIntosh County existed as a fiefdom, with whites as the lesser nobles and blacks as the serfs, seemingly happy with the indulgences allowed them. Thurnell Alston, a retired boilermaker, challenged the good-old-boy system of patronage, and, by asking assistance from lawyers (seen as modern-day carpetbaggers by some locals), brought belated changes to the electoral process, notably the notion that one-half of the population deserved representation in local government.

The story of how the community responded is, in Greene’s capable hands, poetic and sad, suspenseful and discursive. Simply for the episode that gives the book its title, PRAYING FOR SHEETROCK is worth reading—a well-written, thoughtful, and inventive analysis of current events, worth owning and reading again.

Sources for Further Study

Atlantic Journal Constitution. September 22, 1991, p. N8.

Chicago Tribune. December 1, 1991, VI, p. 3.

The Christian Science Monitor. December 2, 1991, p. 13.

Commonweal. CXVIII, December 6, 1991, p. 722.

Library Journal. CXVI, October 15, 1991, p. 106.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. December 15, 1991, p. 1.

The Nation. CCLIII, December 23, 1991, p. 821.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, November 3, 1991, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, August 16, 1991, p. 40.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, November 24, 1991, p. 3.