“Walk in Light” by Morrice author Larry Neitzert ($15.95) is an intriguing self-published novel that’s set in a nameless rural small town near Lansing in the summer and fall of 1952.
It’s likely to be a bit on the controversial side, as it deals with racial prejudice, bigotry and stressful relationships during challenging times.
The entertaining, semi-autobiographical tale is evocative of Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” as well as Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
It seems like an odd mixture, but Neitzert makes it work, smoothly capturing the atmosphere of the time, offering shifting narratives from viewpoints of innocents.
Four young boys, Henry, Frederic Jacob, and Floyd are spending a seemingly idyllic summer - goofing off, playing and fighting with another.
They perform farm duties, go to church and bible studies on Sundays and have created a couple of hideouts where they can get away from adult supervision,
Soon they’re joined by a new neighbor, William, a black boy whose family is from Kenya. William quickly becomes part of their “gang”, helping them build a new tree house nearby.
Conflicts arise when relatives and other church-goers don’t want to have anything to do with William’s family, even though his mother Sarah is now playing the organ at the church services.
Bigotry abounds - the boys discover what the “n” word means and are distressed to hear it used frequently by angry townspeople.
William’s father is living in Ann Arbor; he’s a minister who’s studying for a medical degree. William’s younger sister Elizabeth is shy; she’s fascinated by the young farm animals.
When the boys are playing in the attic of the farmhouse, they make a puzzling discovery that leads to more disturbing questions.
The author is a polished storyteller, creating strong characters, flowing dialogue and an unexpected conclusion.
Neitzert, who graduated from MSU, has taught for 40 years. He is an adjunct instructor in Social Studies, teaching history at Baker College in Owosso.
The release of Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” has raised interest of books dealing with racism. Neitzert’s novel is one of those rare self-published books that should catch the eye of a smart editor and get significant, deserving, national recognition.
He has written two other books, “Maggie’s Farm”, a novel set at MSU in the late 1960’s, and “Barn Stories”, an enjoyable collection of entertaining tales.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed books regularly since 1987.
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This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on October 4, 2015.