“The people tend to be clannish, violent and perhaps mildly inbred.”
“The Roar Beneath” by Donald Mangum is a short novel set in the Mississippi Coast area days before Hurricane Katrina and just after. It follows Hank, a widowed professor who is drawn into a mystery surrounding his wife, his brother, a colleague, and a world of university politics from which he has always done his best to stay away. Katrina is not the focus, but it is there, and it is coming, bringing an urgency to Hank’s story as he tries to figure out the pieces before the storm hits.
Mangum showcases the exact attitude everyone had about Katrina at the time before. We were all not quite concerned about it, still going on with our lives. Hank is very much involved in uncovering secrets and clues, putting the ghost of his wife to rest, to pay much attention at all to a little storm forming in the gulf.
The characters and settings are authentic and real. They breathe and speak like people I know. He paints pictures of places I have been and know precisely, like Dauphin Island, Highway 90, the Back Bay, and that exact Waffle House. As a fellow native, it gives such an air of familiarity and warmth. I loved meeting everyone of them.
There is humor and insight and drops of local color and trivia. Like, what is the difference between a still and a kiln? All of it is authentic exactly to life and the people on the Coast. With that authenticity is a bit of strong language and racial slurs. He uses the ‘N’ word and a few ‘F bomb’s, but I feel that the use is not meant to be pointedly directed to offend. Mangum uses it in a way that fits with the story and the characters in context. One particular character does not care for political correctness and at one point goes out of his way to be pointedly offensive by using it. It is no more than one would hear or see in a low R-rated movie. He uses it in a way that is truthful and human. Though I believe he could have gone without the use, it would not have struck the same chord at all.
This story is even more poignant to me because I remember Before Katrina and I remember After. Before there were once magnificent old houses along the beach, and then after slabs of concrete. Ancient, giant oak trees snapped in half and torn up from the root. Buildings gutted–by rain, wind, or flood, and that is important because the insurance will only pay for one. Shrimp boats tossed into the middle of streets, and huge flatbed barges flipped upside down on the harbor. Bridges are gone. In the years since, I had forgotten, but Mangum reminded me.
His style has a bit of poetry to it, the flow easy and so very Southern. It is not flowerly purple prose but a matter of fact turn of words that is common and easily grasped. It is the kind of poetry you understand.
Donald Mangum is a Mississippi native, a teacher of philosophy and English, twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and several times published in textbooks. He is more than qualified has earned every bit of praise for this short novel. I loved it and recommend it to anyone and everyone who is the least bit curious about the Mississippi Coast.
5 out of 5 stars
The book is not available on Amazon at this time, but it can be bought from the publishing company, Main Street Rag Publishing Co, here. This post does not contain affiliate links.