Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sabbath Creek: A Book Review

Judson Mitcham, Sabbath Creek (Orlando: Harcourt, 2004), 169 pages

“My mother asked if he had lived in Sabbath Creek all his life. ‘Not yet.’” Stroud’s answers were often allusive. Over the days Lewis and his mother Charlene were stranded in the town, they came to know the old black man who ran the ran-down motel. It was a memorable week at the end of a trip through Georgia as Lewis’ mother fled an abusive marriage. Over a few days, Lewis experiences disappointments and tragedies while learning about baseball, other people’s tragedies, love and grace. Stroud, who is 93, tells him about playing baseball with Satchel Paige and becomes a stable father figure to a boy whose father has been at best a paradox.

“I already knew what a paradox was, long before Miss Young tried to explain it to me: a father who loved you and whose love you needed so much it was like deep thirst; a father who made you sick with his drinking, made you hate him, but who tossed the ball back and forth with you for hour s in the backyard, each lob or hard throw like a sentence passed between you, almost as good as words.” (page 131)

In the final part of the book, Lewis runs away. He’d overheard his mother confide to Stroud that she never wanted a child and wanted to do away with her pregnancy. The old man chastised her, saying the boy was a precious gift. But the sting of his mother’s comments hurt Lewis and the boy takes off. During his three day trip, he experiences grace from a disabled Vietnam veteran who can’t do much for him except fix peanut butter sandwiches. He gets into a fight and is rescued by Eva, a girl a year older who he’s come to know. With her son missing, Charlene calls her husband, Lewis’ father, who immediately sets out to help search for the boy. Driving way too fast, he’s killed in an auto accident. Stroud was the only one honest enough to tell the boy that it was partly his fault, but the old man insisted that he couldn’t let his father’s death drag him down as he shared his tragedies with the boy. Thinking of all the tragedies, Lewis asks Stroud why God lets such things happen. “Be still,” Stroud says. Obviously Mitcham wants his readers to recall the words Lewis had read several days earlier from the Gideon Bible he’d found in the hotel room, “Be still and know that I am God.” (p. 90, from Psalm 46) It’s may not seem to be the answer he’s seeking, but it might be the only answer available.

I enjoyed this book and read it in two sittings. With words, Mitcham paints pictures of life through the eyes of a boy about to turn 14. Interestingly, there seems to be less tension between the races that I’d expect, but throughout the story, Lewis learns about a parallel world that had once existed and was enforced with Jim Crow laws and segregation. There are other interesting twists in the book. I was almost expecting the mother to kill the father (she’d purchased a pistol and had been practicing shooting it), and was in a weird sense relieved when he died in another fashion. The emotions shown by both parents are honest. We all have a tendency to care deeply and hurt those we love at the same time, and it is through the kindness experienced during tragedies that we get a taste of grace.
Click here to read an interview with the author.
Click here for more of Sage's reviews.


  1. That reminds me, I need a sabbath from everything right now!

    Seriously, I will chk this out too someday.

  2. It sounds like a book that would catch me emotionally and I probably wouldn't want to put down if I started.

  3. through the kindness experienced during tragedies that we get a taste of grace.

    Beautiful Sage, simply beautiful

  4. That looks like a good book.

    Congrats on the easy jury duty!

  5. I've been off of fiction for some time now. I haven't been drawn back.

    It was City of Light by Lauren Belfer that did me in.

    Short stories, on the other hand...

  6. Funny coincidence... I got my jury duty notice for May 29 in the mail today. Hope your jury duty is going well! =o)

  7. Gautami--I too need a Sabbath--I love the concept and the hope of that word

    Tim & Murf, both of you would enjoy it, I think

    Pia, thanks!

    Deana, nothing to it! ;)

    Prego, I'll take City of Light off my reading list

    Jaded, maybe you'll get on an interesting jury and can write a book!

  8. Love the review! Hope you don't mind, but I linked to it. I wanted SRC readers to be exposed to all kinds of Southern authors! :D

  9. Thanks for the review. I have added it to my ever-growing list of books to read.

  10. I was just thinking of all the books that you've reviewed and I got to wondering...what was the last book that you read where the main character was a female?

  11. Sure Maggie, your site does a great job promoting Southern literature

    Kevin, Enjoy!

    Murf, In February I read Nan Graham's, "Turn South at the Next Magnolia" (I didn't review it) So, you see, reading Jane Austin in High School didn't completely turn me off of reading books by and about females.

  12. So, what is your criteria for what books get reviewed on here and which ones don't get that dubious honour?

  13. Murf, time and interest... I also don't review many books that I read for work

  14. Wonderful review as usual Sage. This novel seems very engaging and touching. And as others have mentioned, I'll have to check it out.