Winner of the Charles H. and N. Mildred Nilon Excellence in Minority Fiction Award
Trouble the Water moves among finely woven layers of time and place as it takes on a new and controversial theme in contemporary black writing, the search for family reconciliation. Twenty years after running away from home in Pee Dee, North Carolina, Jordan Henry believed he had found success, as a young college professor of history, a married man, and a resident of New England, whose colonial past he knew so well. When Jordan finds his career stymied by local prejudices, his world crumbles. Word of his grandmother's death reaches him, and he returns home to claim the ambiguous legacy of her farmland and face the consequences of his long absence.
Jordan's estranged father also returns to Pee Dee on a quest of his own restoring his good name in a community which blames him for Chloe Henry's death in childbirth. Chloe was Jordan's mother and his grandmother's only child. Unresolved hostility in the family and in the community breaks out, making Jordan the unsuspecting pawn in a plot of revenge against his father. Jordan may be the only one who can free his family from the past and the equally troubled present.
Trouble the Water gains resonance from its unflinching confrontation with dualities common in the Afro-American experience: reality and myth, folklore and sophistication, North and South, rural and cosmopolitan. While sacrificing none of its complexities for the sake of simplicity, it has the relentless movement of a fairy tale that reaches deep into the unconscious roots of behavior. It is intensely lyrical and dense in realism. Trouble the Water is magical in the way it reveals the Afro-American psyche and symbolizes fundamental truths about American life.
"Jordan 'squeezed the rough crossboards between his legs and took off on a wild, fast gallop' through this outstanding novel. The wild, wise, authentic voices move as fast as the visual landscapes… The outside, conversations on a porch, memories of old friends, humor and passion, a liquid 'more nourishing than blood' come inside and settle with the reader. This is a novel that holds a wild time in a good place." —Gerald Vizenor
"Trouble the Water is a triumph of complexity contained in a simple story." —Ronald Sukenick
"The history of this continent can be understood as pools of blood, buried in collective memory, in this particular instance in the rich red sands of the South. Melvin Dixon dives down into the stormy deep, carries on his back a family, all their names, even those unspoken because of their power to call into being. They return, restored. I am once again reminded never to underestimate the power of story to heal." —Joy Harjo
Drunk with thaw from the Carr Mountains, the Pee Dee River raised its muddy arms and hugged the shore. Months into spring the river was still drinking. Ripples on its surface arched into blue-black lips that puckered and belched with every swallow. As the river swelled, hilltops along the Blue Ridge Mountains seemed to shrink. A low, thick fog inching out of the North Carolina morning hung a veil of heat over all and narrowed the horizon. Under a silver green sky the water glistened like a bolt of wrinkled satin. But when it rose, the river became as sloppy and inebriated as molasses.
At night the black surface of the water was pure snakeskin. Ripples burst on its surface without a sound. Flies and mosquitoes knitted their buzz and whine into the cooling air. Crickets sang soprano, bullfrogs bass. And the face of the water opened its many mouths to catch the kisses of car headlights sweeping across the Hardison Bridge. At the rattle of pickup trucks riding the heels of twilight, those mouths became ears filling up with sound.
Wide and long the Pee Dee started way up in the Blue Ridge as the Yadkin River. It flowed south and east until it joined the Uharie in the Piedmont and gave its name and granite color to the village near Lilesville, midway between Wadesboro and Rockingham. It would reach farther down into South Carolina, gather red clay and yellow silt as the Little Pee Dee, ease into the Winyah Bay at Georgetown, then break water at the Atlantic.
One afternoon, Mitch followed his brother Beauford to the water. He knew all about the Pee Dee from what Harriet Henry and Addie Miller said about the Confederate gold hidden somewhere between the bridge and Blewett Falls, and from his mother Maggie telling how Rev. Franklin led the church membership class there for baptism. Each day Mitch rode the schoolbus across the riverbridge, but he just didn't see the water for all his looking at the short hills rolling back from the whitewashed plank houses and yards full of wood chips. He played tag with Ruthie and fought with Beauford over whose turn it was for the chilly morning face wash. When he did notice the river flittering in the warm spring sun, he wanted a closer look and feel, not Maggie's church songs about deep rivers or Harriet moaning about camp ground.
Trouble the Water
Trouble the Water