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  • Written by Christine Lincoln
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  • Sap Rising
  • Written by Christine Lincoln
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Written by Christine LincolnAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Christine Lincoln

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 176 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42760-1
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

In this spare and mesmerizing debut, Christine Lincoln takes us inside the hearts and minds of African Americans whose lives unfold against a vividly evoked rural community. As they navigate between old and new, between youth and responsibility, they find themselves choosing between the comforts of what they trust without question and the fearsome excitements of what they might come to know.

One young man’s world is both expanded and contracted by stories he hears from a beautiful stranger. Another stumbles across his mother having an affair with his uncle. An intense friendship forms between one woman afraid she will turn out like everyone else and one afraid she won’t. Lincoln’s down-to-earth voice, saturated with the manner and details of the South, brings her characters to life with a remarkably light touch and an extraordinary depth of emotion. In Sap Rising, she proves herself one of those writers whose work transcends its own rich particularity to speak with clarity to the most fundamental elements of the human experience.

Excerpt

from BUG JUICE

She came into Sonny's life like wind, like a storm that blew in one night and was gone the next, leaving him with a yearning that would take years to fill. At first Sonny thought he was still caught in the depths of his dream, but then a stronger force pulled him back to a moon-soaked room, and into the lingering laughter that filtered through the cracks in his bedroom door and sounded like stars. Sonny knew the sounds of night surrounded by the softness of Moss Woods. For nine years he'd slept in that room, with the worn mahogany bureau, the paneled wardrobe, and the cedar chest, listening to his younger brother's and parents' breathing against the monotonous drone of insects and frogs spirited under the cover of darkness.

Sonny swung his legs over the side of the bed. He had gone to sleep in nothing but his underwear. And as he stood up, stretching his slight frame, a hint of the muscles that would pull him into manhood seemed somehow clearer in the moon's light. He picked his way to the door, opened it a crack, and slid through, pulling it quickly behind him as he went to stand at the top of the stairs. The glow from the kitchen cast the stairway into shadows, so Sonny had to hold on to the banister as he made his way to the bottom step. He could make out the voices of his mother and father and of another man whose voice he did not know. He poked his head around the corner, blinking his watery eyes against the kitchen's sudden brightness.

His father sat at the head of the table, his mother at the other end, her back to Sonny. A man sitting to the right of his mother poured himself a glass of beer from the paper bag he held in his hand. The man was around his parents' age, Sonny could see that. He was a shade lighter than his drink, with a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of his nose and eyes that smiled even as his mouth disappeared behind his glass. A woman sat beside him, and once Sonny had seen her, he could not take his eyes from her. She was the darkest person he had ever seen, with almost everyone in his family being light-skinned and freckled.

But this woman was the color of ripened mulberries, the purple-black stain that covered Sonny's lips and hands when he gorged himself on the fruit's sweetness. Her cheekbones were so high the lower portion of her face seemed to belong to someone else. She sat quiet, looking back and forth among the other three as they traded conversation. Sonny shifted his weight, and the movement caught his father's eyes.

"What're you doin' up this time of night? You supposed to be sleepin'."

His mother turned around in her chair, her face a picture of pursed lips and contorted eyebrows as she tried to capture Sonny's eyes with her own. Before Sonny could come up with an excuse that would satisfy her, the beer man said, "Sonny! That you? My Lord, you done got big since the last time I saw you. Tall."

Sonny smiled, tucking his chin into his chest.

"You know who I am?" He didn't wait for Sonny to reply. "I'm your uncle Kenny. Remember me?"

Sonny's smile spread into a grin. He nodded his head hard so that it felt as if it would fall off and roll across the kitchen floor.

"Come over here. Let me get a good look at you." His uncle Kenny stretched his arms toward him, and Sonny flew from his mother's accusing eye and into the welcomed embrace.

Sonny felt himself engulfed in a close, quick hug before being taken by the shoulders and held at arms' length. His uncle's eyes searched Sonny's flushed face until he seemed satisfied with what he read there.

"You got yourself a fine young man here, Leonard, Sissy. Looks like Daddy when he was a boy, don't he?" His uncle turned to the woman by his side. The palm of his hand lay against the back of Sonny's neck, and Sonny was sure his uncle would be able to feel the heat rise up in his body. "Annie, this is Sissy's oldest boy, Sonny."

Sonny could feel the woman looking him over. He wanted to look at her, too, but didn't. She was from the city, and his mother had told him about city folks. How they was evil, devils, all of them going to hell except Uncle Kenny, who still had a chance at salvation since he hadn't actually been born there.

"Yes," his mother said. "This one here's a good one, as long as I stay on him. You gots to stay on chirrun these days."

"And what about that other one?" His uncle Kenny squeezed Sonny's neck.

"Now, that Dennis, he's somethin' else, child."

"He was, what? three, four when I was last here?"

"Three. Just turned seven." Sonny could feel himself disappear once his mother's words were off him. "And when I say he's a mess, I mean he is just a mess. 'Bout a week or so ago, I come outside, and the boy had let all the chickens out of the coop. He running behind, talkin' about, 'Fly away, birds, fly away. You free!' "

"Lord have mercy!" Sonny's uncle sputtered, choking on a sip of beer. Everyone at the table laughed, as Sonny slipped away to go sit in the corner of the room. The conversation flowed around him like sea currents, and he was relieved that his uncle had diverted his mother's attention. He watched the way Annie nodded her head at the stories shared, laughing at the parts she was supposed to. Every now and again she would say something to his mother in a voice that sounded like dusk.

She didn't look like she was evil, with her soft hazel eyes and a laugh that pulled him to the edge of his seat. Sonny watched as a moth fluttered against the screen door, trying to get to the light over the porch. The hum of insect wings and the drone of the conversation weighted his eyes, and his lashes began fluttering against the top of his cheeks. When he heard his name he nearly jumped from his seat, eyes wide and blind at the sound of his mother's voice.

"Come on, little boy. It's time for you to get back to bed."

"But I ain't tired." He tried to keep his voice from a whine. Sonny hated it when his mother called him a little boy, as if he were a child like Dennis. "Besides, it's too hot."

He crossed his arms over his chest, imagining he had become one with the chair. His mother crossed her arms as well, and Sonny could see that she was going to push the issue, even in front of this Annie woman.

"Let the boy go, Ruthie," Sonny's father said.

"Leonard, he needs to get his butt in the bed."

"How 'bout he come sit out on the porch with me?" Annie said.

Sonny's mother turned to the woman at her brother's side. She tilted her head, her eyebrows arching into her hairline as she looked down the length of her nose at the other woman.

"I mean, if that's OK with you all?"

Sonny's mother said nothing at first, just continued to look at the woman. She waited. Sonny knew she was good at that. Could ride the space between the passing of time and the beat of a person's heart for just that right moment. As if she knew just how long it took to let a person know everything he or she needed to know.

"I guess it's all right. But...”" His mother raised her finger as Sonny bounded out of his chair. "But you not goin' to be out there that long. So don't get yourself too comfortable."

"Yes, ma'am."

Sonny walked across the kitchen and past his mother, his steps slow and measured. His knees quivered like a colt's from the strain of trying to keep himself from running as he made his way out the door and onto the porch with Annie.

"Let's go sit on the steps, Sonny," she said once they were outside.

Sonny went over to the screen and pushed at the heat-swollen wood until the door gave way and opened into blackness. He and the woman sat down on the cement steps. It was cooler out here, much cooler than inside, making the boy suddenly aware of his bare skin.

"It's beautiful here," she whispered.

Sonny looked around the blackened yard, his face a puzzle. "Don't you have nuthin' like this where you from?"

"Not in the city."

She pointed to the heavens. "See how big the sky is?"

Sonny followed her finger. The sky looked the same as it always did.

"It ain't so big where I live."

"You mean it's smaller? The sky?"

"Oh, yes, much smaller. Folks made it that way."

"Folks can make the sky shrink?" The boy cut his eyes at the woman.

"In the city they can."

Sonny leaned against the stair. His mama might be right, he thought. Maybe those folks is devils, anytime they can take God's Heaven and make it smaller, and he told her he believed it's cause everyone there's going to hell anyway.


From the Hardcover edition.
Christine Lincoln

About Christine Lincoln

Christine Lincoln - Sap Rising
Christine Lincoln was born and raised in Baltimore. At age thirty-four, she graduated from Washington College and was awarded the school’s Sophie Kerr Prize, an event that was covered by The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Praise

Praise

“Sensuous, surprising, and a shade magical.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“[Has] the authority and haunting resonance of folktales. . . .With delicacy and insight, Lincoln brings to life her characters’ painful awakenings and powerful epiphanies.” –O: The Oprah Magazine

“Lincoln writes with understated grace and a terrific eye for detail.” –The New York Times

“Heralds the arrival of an assured writer with an awesome talent. . . . Electrifying.” –Essence

“Lyrical . . . shimmering, worldly-wise.” –People

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

"Sensuous, surprising and a shade magical." —Los Angeles Times Book Review

In her astounding debut, Sap Rising, Christine Lincoln illuminates the very souls of the people and families whose trials and tribulations are portrayed in the small rural town of Grandville, Maryland. We hope the following questions, discussion topics, and author biography enhance your group’s reading of the twelve poignant stories that comprise this highly acclaimed story collection.

About the Guide

Lincoln captures and renders eloquently crucial emotional moments in the lives of each of her characters: Ebbie, the young woman desperately wanting to want the life she is expected to lead, yet compelled by her own inner spirit to escape it; Pontella, Ebbie’s illegitimate daughter, deserted by her mother and raised by her Aunt Loretta, who one day as a young girl finds herself becoming invisible; Sonny Fisher who aches for knowledge of the world beyond Grandville; Sonny’s mother, Ruthie, who forms an unusual bond with her husband’s first lover; Boag Mason who grows up on the day he discovers his mother’s shameful secret; the Fullers, a family dealing with the devastation of losing one of their own while living with the plague of their own secret horrors; June Mason, whose legacy forces her to confront her future; and the children on the brink of assuming the irrevocable burden of adulthood. Using words judiciously, Lincoln achieves extraordinary empathy with the characters she depicts. Her prose is imbued with poetry and enigma, yet is deeply revealing. And from this collection of just twelve spare stories emerges the fabric of an entire community, woven from the interconnecting lives of the families and characters that inhabit this small town, and whose spirits linger long after the reader puts down Sap Rising.

About the Author

Christine Lincoln grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and received her degree in English literature from Washington College. She received the prestigious Sophie Kerr Prize, financially the largest undergraduate literary award in the country. She and her eight-year-old son moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, where Lincoln is pursuing a Ph.D. in African literature at the University of Witwatersrand.

Discussion Guides

1. How does each story in Sap Rising in its own way exemplify how, as Boag puts it, “a person could wake up one day and find his whole world somehow changed” (“Winter’s Wheat”—p. 86)?

2. One of the recurring themes throughout these stories is a child’s loss of innocence as he or she teeters on the brink of adulthood. What does this transitional state mean for Boag Mason, at age 13, who must “put away childish things” (“Winter’s Wheat”—p. 74); or Scoogie, who feels simultaneously a “weariness that made him feel much older than his sixteen years” and “as unguarded as when he was a child” (“At the Water’s End”—pp. 143, 150)? What other stories capture such a loss of innocence and what exactly is lost? Is the experience different for a boy, like Boag who “never forgot how grown up he felt having pants, and how frightened he was to learn his mother could be so easily defeated” (“Winter’s Wheat”—p. 84), than for a girl, like the young Ma’D who, when she met Hiron, was “still young enough to believe in fairies and magic and a man like him”(“A Very Close Conspiracy”—p. 125)? Between 1789-1794, the English poet William Blake published two collections of poems, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, which reflect contrasting visions of the world depending on the state of one’s soul. If you are familiar with Blake’s work, do you see its influence in the stories of Sap Rising?

3. In the words of Scoogie’s poetic inner voice: “The world is terrible. The world is beautiful” (“At the Water’s End”—p. 150). For the people that inhabit Grandville, the world is a place where the “hideous and the exquisite” are “one and the same” (“Bug Juice”—p. 12). Where is the beauty in the world of Sap Rising? Does Lincoln succeed in achieving a delicate balance of the beautiful and the terrible in each of her stories, or does she reconcile the paradox? Ultimately, do the stories convey a negative or a positive outlook on life, or perhaps just a weary effort to live, summarized by Uncle Jimmy’s advice: “Ain’t no room for feelin’ sorry when you the one tryin’ to live” (“Winter’s Wheat”—p. 91)?

4. How would you describe the portrait of family life in Grandville that emerges from Sap Rising? Besides correcting manners in “Winter’s Wheat” (pp. 74-75), doing spring cleaning in “Acorn Pipes” (p. 31), and shining the furniture in “At the Water’s End” (p. 140), what else do mothers do? What do mothers teach their children? What do fathers teach?

5. What is invisibility a symbol for in Sap Rising, e.g., Pontella thinks she is becoming invisible (“A Hook Will Sometimes Keep You”); Ebbie tries “to catch sight of something—anything—that resembles me, just to keep from falling away” (“Like Dove Wings” —p. 156); and Hiron learns during his service in the war “what it felt like to exist and not exist” (“A Very Close Conspiracy”—p. 128). In the classic Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison used the metaphor of invisibility to convey, ironically, the plight of the African-American man in a racist, white society. If you are familiar with this work, how does Sap Rising compare to Ellison’s use of invisibility?

6. Lincoln has said that she was inspired by her grandmother telling her stories as a little girl. How has this personal experience influenced her writing? What do all of the storytellers in Sap Rising have in common? The knowledge that the storytellers impart to the children is at once indispensable—filled with the “things he needed to know” (“Bug Juice”—p. 19), yet also dangerously limiting: “Never leave to others to teach you all that you must know. That is a slave” (“Last Will”—p. 114). Does Lincoln reconcile these two views of knowledge? How do the stories-within-the-story enhance the meaning of the main action? For example, in “A Hook Will Sometimes Keep You,” how does the story of Wheat affect the reader’s interpretation of Pontella’s struggle with invisibility (p. 24)?

7. From Country’s “ slick willie” (“More Like Us”) to the gentle, duped Franklin Mason (“Winter’s Wheat”) to the monstrous Dixon Bentlow (“At the Water’s Edge”), the portrait of the mature African American male character is simultaneously one of victim and perpetrator. How are the boys different from the men, and what explanation do the stories offer, particularly “A Very Close Conspiracy,” for the transformation of the male characters as they grow up? For Hiron, after the war, “[t]he knowledge that she could do the same job as any man made it impossible for Ma’D to go back to where she’d been, and made it unlikely that a man like Hiron would be able to settle back into his old place” (“A Very Close Conspiracy”—p. 130). And Ebbie does not tell Ruthie that “Leonard beat her because she refused to cook and clean. . . . He beat her because she stopped making him believe that he was the only reason she ever existed at all” (“Like Dove Wings”—p. 163). What do these statements tell us about the predicament of the African American man trying to find his place both in white-dominated society and within the framework of his own family? Is Uncle Jimmy different from the other men portrayed and, if so, why (“Winter’s Wheat”)?

8. Most of the stories are told in the third person, with the exception of “A Hook Will Sometimes Keep You,” “More Like Us,” and “ Like Dove Wings.” How are these three stories related, and why might Lincoln have chosen a different narrative voice for these particular stories? How does Lincoln simultaneously convey a universal female voice and an intensely personal one in these three stories? In the remaining stories told in the traditional third-person narrative, what is Lincoln’s narrative point of view, and how does it affect the reader’s ability to relate to or empathize with the characters?

9. In some cases, a story’s title is derived from a line in the body of the story, with a slight change in the phrasing. For example, “A Hook Will Sometimes Keep You” closes with the phrase “sometimes a hook is the one thing, the only thing, that can keep you from becoming invisible” (p. 30); and the title “At the Water’s End” is taken from the slightly different line: “His father’s boat stood forlorn at the water’s edge” (p. 150). In these examples, how does the subtle change in wording impart to the story a much deeper level of meaning? In other stories, such as “All That’s Left” and “A Very Close Conspiracy,” how does the title reflect and help define the concluding lines of the story, once again enhance the meaning?

10. Does “More Like Us” prove that Sonny’s mother was right about the city (“Bug Juice”)? Does the unique tone and style of “More Like Us” convey the tangible differences between the city and the country? Are there any similarities between the two, and if there are then what does this say about the universal nature of community?

11. What is the nature of the romantic relationships portrayed among the African-American men and women in the stories? How do the relationships progress through different stages portrayed in the different stories: first, the young lovers Ebbie and Leonard (“Sap Rising”); next, the mature relationships between the older Leonard and Ruthie (“Bug Juice”) or the Masons’ (“Winter’s Wheat”); and, finally, the destructive relationships between Ma’D and Hiron (“Acorn Pipes” and “A Very Close Conspiracy”) or Country and her “man” (“More Like Us”)? Why does the romance deteriorate? For the couples that stay together, what holds them together? How are the dynamics of these relationships uniquely African-American? Which qualities are universal?

12. In what ways do abuse and domestic violence manifest themselves in “Wishes” and in “A Very Close Conspiracy”? How does Lincoln convey the emotional trauma of such abuse with just the merest hint of the actual event, such as in “Wishes”? Is “A Very Close Conspiracy” an absolution for Hiron’s abuse of his family? Does his story merely explain his behavior, or does it justify it? Do you read Hiron’s death as a punishment or as a last heroic gesture, and how might your interpretation be affected by looking back to “Acorn Pipes”? What does Scoogie decide to do in “At the Water’s End” and what does it imply? What do you think is meant by the final words of Scoogie’s poetic inner voice in “At The Water’s End”: “And the sufferer’s tears are the purest” (p. 151)?

13. What do the voices of the women in “Like Dove Wings” tell us about female relationships? How does the women’s treatment of Ebbie compare to the town women’s treatment of Country in “ More Like Us”? How are women portrayed simultaneously as each other’s best friends and worst enemies? Is the relationship between the young Pontella and Junie in “All That’s Left” portentous of women’s dubious friendships? Would Lincoln advocate solidarity as a solution for the positions of abuse or loneliness that many of her female characters find themselves in, or are independence and escape the only possible solutions?

14. How does Sap Rising celebrate heritage—both African American and Native American? Are the characters and events uniquely Africans-American? How do “Bug Juice” and “Last Will” comment on both the burden of legacy and the importance of roots?

15. By weaving the same characters throughout more than one story, Lincoln develops a picture of the whole community. Is she successful in maintaining the distinction between each story while at the same time developing characters and relationships across stories? How does she push the boundaries of the short story genre? Is there significance to the sequence of the stories in Sap Rising? For example, why does “A Hook Can Sometimes Keep You” precede “Sap Rising,” or why might Lincoln have placed “More Like Us” after “All That’s Left”? How might the reader reread “Acorn Pipes” with a new understanding of Hira after having read “Wishes” and “A Very Close Conspiracy,” or gain a deeper understanding of the older Ruthie in “Bug Juice” after reading “Like Dove Wings,” or view Junie Mason differently in “Last Will” as opposed to “All That’s Left”?

16. Is the Church central or peripheral to the individuals of Grandville? What type of community does the Church promote among its African American congregation? If a woman’s place in the community is symbolized by her presence or absence from church, such as Miss Neeva (“Wishes”—p. 102) or Ebbie (“Like Dove Wings”—p. 155), what role does the Church play in the life of the African American male? Hira listens to Reverend Snowden’s preaching at her father’s funeral: “She thought, Daddy was a good man. He loved all of us. The preacher said so, and everyone knows a preacher man speaks for God. And God don’t lie” (“Acorn Pipes” —p. 36). But it is on the day that she “said she wasn’t going to church no more” that Cinny grows up (“Wishes”—p. 100). Does age and wisdom bring with it cynicism toward organized religion, God, or simply toward a male-centric view of God? Does “Like Dove Wings” illustrate how a woman’s spirituality is something separate from the Church, e.g., Ebbie’s conviction that “God is a woman” (p. 162)?

17. If Scoogie’s father “could hardly stand to go to the fields anymore: he knew a man could lose his dreams out there” (“At the Water’s End”—p. 140), and Ebbie’s view of Leonard “hunched over the wheel of his tractor, moving mindlessly” is enough to drive her out of Grandville (“Sap Rising”—p. 71), then is it not understandable that the male characters act the way they do? When Boag spots a deer with human eyes, he realizes that his mother sees it too, but that “[h]is father never saw a thing” (“Winter’s Wheat”—p. 73). How does Boag’s observation about his father exemplify the male characters’ incapability for feeling? Why do the men lose their sensitivity, which they seem to possess as children (witness Sonny or Scoogie), but the women seem able to retain it?

18. “Lincoln has said that her stories enact the tension between personal desire and the struggle to belong to a community, a conflict she finds at the heart of the African American experience where the African consciousness of ‘we’ meets the American obsession with ‘I’” (Press Release, Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland, Graduation Day, May 2000). What examples from Sap Rising support this tension that Lincoln describes? What do you think she means by the “American obsession with ‘I,’” and do you agree with her?

19. What role does nature play in Sap Rising? Are the characters affected when they are physically closer to nature? How might you interpret Wheat hearing the “ voices” of the grass and the wind (“A Hook Will Sometimes Keep You”—pp. 27-28)? Or the trees hearing Cinny’s secrets (“Wishes”—p. 98)? How do the different images of trees reflect the characters’ own hopes and dreams in “A Very Close Conspiracy” (p. 121), “Bug Juice” (p. 10), and “Last Will” (p. 105)?

20. In “Bug Juice,” Annie’s laughter sounds like “wind chimes” (p. 9); in “Acorn Pipes,” “laughter rippled throughout the group, filtered through the slits in the wood floor, and covered the girls like grains of dirt” (p. 45); and in “A Very Close Conspiracy,” Hiron laughs “a laugh that sounded more like a man choking to death” (p. 125). How do the different sounds of laughter reflect the mood or the theme of these stories?

Suggested Readings

Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio; W. Somerset Maugham, Collected Short Stories; Carson McCullers, Collected Stories, including Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Café; William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses and The Wild Palms; Alice Munro, Dance of the Happy Shades: And Other Stories; Andre Dubus, Dancing After Hours: Stories; Alice Walker, The Color Purple; Toni Morrison, Beloved; Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God and Collected Stories; Eudora Welty, Collected Stories of Eudora Welty; Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy; Frank O’Connor, Collected Stories; Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories; Peter Taylor, The Old Forest and Other Stories; Bailey White, Mama Makes Up Her Mind; Bobbie Ann Mason, Midnight Magic: Selected Stories of Bobbie Ann Mason and Clear Springs: A Family Story; Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina; Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres; Willa Cather, My Antonia; Stephen King, Different Seasons.

  • Sap Rising by Christine Lincoln
  • August 27, 2002
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Vintage
  • $11.00
  • 9780375727771

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