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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fire in Beulah - Historical Fiction

Author: Rilla Askew Pub. Date: 2001
Pages: 376
Geographical Setting/Time Period: Tulsa, OK / 1920-21

Main Characters:
• Althea Dedmeyer- secretive, disagreeable, and insecure wife of a wildcatter;
• Graceful Whiteside- Althea’s proud and enigmatic African-American housemaid;
• Japheth Whiteside- Althea’s violent, cunning, roustabout brother.
• Franklin Dedmeyer- a jovial and driven wildcatter.

Plot Summary:
Althea Dedmeyer (nee Whiteside) married into Tulsa’s high society when she found Franklin, a driven wildcatter with a kind heart. Secure in her station but emotionally dissatisfied and struggling with inner turmoil, she often releases her frustrations on her African-American housemaid, strong, deliberate Graceful. When Japheth Whiteside, Althea’s dangerous roustabout brother, arrives in Tulsa, his machinations threaten to collapse Althea’s carefully constructed reality, destroy Franklin’s oil partnership and hopes of tapping the next big gusher, and propel Tulsa society closer to racial violence. As racial tension explodes into the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Japheth stokes the hatred and Althea struggles to come to terms with African-Americans as real people with families and lives as she tries to help Graceful through the riot and back to her family.

• Pace- leisurely, significantly picks up near the end;
• Characters- unique and intimately portrayed; lifelike and relatable;
• Storyline- character-driven, layered and complex;
• Frame- engrossing, transporting, vivid, central to the story;
• Tone- ominous

Brief quote: “Althea snatched up the hat from the ally floor and reached her in an instant; she said again, “That was not your brother? Hear me?” Because she was unwilling that it be so. Because if they were going o drag niggers behind cars it should be nameless niggers, bad niggers, dangerous ones who raped white women and carried knives in their boots, not little boys who stared solemnly from photographs, and Althea said it again, hissed the words, “That wasn’t him!”” (p.320)

Prizes or Awards: American Book Award 2002; Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award 2003

Similar Works:
Harpsong or The Mercy Seat, also by Rilla Askew (style, historical fiction, setting);
The burning: massacre, destruction, and the Tulsa race riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan (nonfiction on same topic);
Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan (OK, race relations, oil industry, 1920s)
*All similar works and comparisons found through NoveList.

Reviewer’s Name: Cyndi Selinger

Adapted from Saricks, Joyce G. and Nancy Brown. Readers= Advisory Service in the Public Library 2nd. Chicago: ALA, 1997.

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