The Empty Cell
Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Publish)
In the wake of the brutal lynching in 1947 of a young black man named Willie Earle by a mob of cab drivers in Greenville, South Carolina, four people on the periphery of Earle's life find their own lives unexpectedly upended. Lee Trammell, one of the twenty-eight cabbies acquitted at trial, is tortured by the idea that no guilty is not the same as innocent, and escapes in the only way he knows how. Alma Stone, who loved Willie when he was a child, loses her religion and flees the South, only to discover that Harlem is not the Promised Land she sought. Lawton Chastain, a closeted gay prosecutor, realizes he must destroy his settled, married life if he is ever to have a chance at happiness. Betsy Chastain, on the cusp of adulthood, embarks on a passionate interracial affair that teaches her the power and limits of love and sex. Against the backdrop of the social and racial strictures of the fifties, each of these characters struggles to find his or her own version of freedom. Each experiences loss, sorrow, and growth, as the South begins its long march toward racial equality. Deeply authentic, rich in psychological insight, and eloquently told, The Empty Cell has a depth and maturity that will keep readers enmeshed in its pages from beginning to end.
Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 7 out of 10
Prose: 7 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 7.75 out of 10
Plot: Alden's plot follows a logical sequence of historical events and is crisp, penetrating, and well-paced. Despite the topic's complexity, the storyline is straightforward and easy to follow.
Prose/Style: Alden's prose is both informal and eloquent, enhancing the storyline while driving home period-appropriate speech. Told in the first person, Trammell's voice is necessarily coarse, offensive, and tortured.
Originality: Readers will quickly recognize the historical fiction elements in Alden's work, but the novel is unique in its use of secondary characters to illuminate and interconnect opposing sides.
Character Development/Execution: The Empty Cell's characters are both powerful and unforgettable. Alma Stone outshines the other protagonists with her unflinching stoicism, and the deplorable Lee Trammell will take readers on an intense journey of angst-ridden guilt and self-condemnation.
Blurb: A heart-wrenching account of a 1940s, racist-fueled murder in the Deep South that will pummel readers with grief, unease, and awakening.
Date Submitted: April 28, 2021