Book Review: New Brandon author writes “Fatherless” – Northside Sun

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Larry McCoy’s first novel, Fatherless, was released in late October, 2020 through the self-publishing company, BookBaby–yet it is still reverberating in the minds of those many people who have read it.

The retired business owner, school teacher and volunteer high school basketball coach–who now lives in Brandon but was born in Beulah and grew up in Rosedale–calls the book “a fictionalized account of a true story” about a young Black man working the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta as a sharecropper whose father suddenly disappears when he is eight years old. Those specific details, McCoy says, were true of his own life. The fictional embellishments follow the realistic basis of the book.

Larry McCoy

“We were living on a plantation, and I was a daddy’s boy,” recalls McCoy, “and one day my father just disappeared. Left. After that, things were never the same. My mother got mean and nobody would tell me what happened to my father. I had to take his place picking cotton in the fields during the summer because Mama said we needed that three dollars a day. I was the only kid out there,” he says. “Our lives changed forever and I think, really, my mother blamed me somehow for my father’s leaving us. She complained so much about his absence that, in retrospect, I really believe she felt the blame fell on us.”

Later, however, McCoy’s mother–in a fascinating side note–became one of the founders and leaders of the Civil Rights protest movement for Bolivar County in the early 60’s. “I even met Fannie Lou Hammer through my mother,” said McCoy. “Rosedale formed a civil rights group in 1965 and my mother, Shirley Collins, was one of the founders. She gave speeches in town and also marched with Dr. King several times and I remember that, everytime before she left, she would tell me and my siblings that if she was not back home in a certain number of days to go find the ‘designated person’ to find out what happened to her and receive instructions.

The group she belonged to in Rosedale always left one member behind at home to get information on what was happening and taking place,” continues McCoy. “Luckily, she always came back alive but she was jailed several times. My mother would always embarrass me as a kid because, when she’d give her speeches in town she’d always say ‘I’m trying to win freedom for my ‘Big Foot Boy’ because he wears a size 12,'” laughs McCoy.

 McCoy says that, while his mother was around and with Dr. King many times, she never really got to know him because he was so quiet. “My mother was talkative and outgoing,” he says, “but she would tell us that he was a reserved man.”

McCoy was 16 when Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, a haunting memory for the young man already experiencing so much pain. “My family didn’t have a television,” he recalls, “but we heard our neighbors start screaming and crying and ran outside to see what was going on. They were wailing. When we were told that Dr. King was killed, we started crying, too. I remember being angry because I thought it was odd that he never fought back and never encouraged his followers to fight back. That was the Ghandi influence on him. I thought that force should meet force back then and never could understand how you couldn’t defend yourself against dogs, beatings and water hoses. There were just a lot of emotions running rampant that day. That terrible day.”

From Amazon.com (where it can also be ordered) comes an apt and succinct summary of McCoy’s book: “‘Fatherless’ is not the typical sob story of a child who grew up without a dad. In Fatherless, author Larry McCoy takes us on a journey through the day to day existence of a sharecropping family in the Mississippi Delta. He does so through the eyes of an abandoned child and manages to stay true to the dialect and authentic culture of the time. Peppered with stories of humor, history, pain and life lessons, Fatherless reveals the private thoughts of a young boy as he grows in coping with loss and begins to focus on hopes and opportunities of each new day.”

McCoy did see his father again many years later–and learned why he left his family in the cottonfield so abruptly that fateful day and forever altered a nine-year old boy’s life. “People need to read the book to get the full story,” chuckles McCoy, “but my father was initially a city boy, born in Memphis, and had travelled to every state in the union working jobs as he found them, even as a boxer at one point. He came back to the Delta because his mother was dying and that’s when he met my mother. But I understand why he left and it had to do with the racially-charged climate of the time coupled with his own restlessness. When I did see him again, in my early teens, he was remarried and had another family.”

The boy portrayed in Fatherless is different from McCoy though, he says. “I took fictional liberties, especially with the character of the boy, but I tried  to present that world as it was then for Black sharecroppers during Jim Crow, a difficult time in our history,” he notes. “Certainly white readers can get something from it as well, a sense of the experience that I and so many other Black Mississippians were going through back then–and also, hopefully, just a good read.”

Forgiveness and redemption is also a theme in the book, said McCoy, now in his late 60s. “And Fatherless is not the only book I’m working on, or have published,” he said, mentioning that he has also published a book of photographs of Delta-area juke joints called The Last Of The Mississippi Juke Joints.

“I’m very proud of having written Fatherless,” he says, “because it was cathartic to me in many ways. If you were born and raised in the Delta, it gets in you–it stays with you. I had always talked about writing a book and my wife, who had gotten very ill about four years ago–although she’s better now–would always tell me when we travelled from one medical visit to another across the region, ‘Why don’t you write all of this down?’ So I did–I just let my memories and the story take me to another place and tell the story of this boy through his eyes. 

“And I credit her for getting me to finally finish the book up, having it professionally edited by Jessie Haynes and illustrated by Tracarris Wince, two very talented and experienced individuals in their own right,” says McCoy. “To be honest? I really don’t like to write and don’t consider myself an author,” McCoy admits. “To be an ‘author’ is a designation someone else has to give you I think–you don’t give it to yourself. Maybe one day I will.”

Then it should be designated: Larry McCoy is indeed an important new Delta-born author–and his novel Fatherless deserves a very wide readership, especially in the current age we’re all currently living in. 

Jack Criss is a freelance writer living in Ridgeland and the host of the new podcast “Business South.”

Categories: books

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