Racism in Texas: alive and well, as always...





An excellent and timely puzzler with social and historical dimensions. A thinking person’s mystery novel, Pick-Up Sticks is not a sanitized, Disneyland version of childhood or the past. It delivers a complex, thoughtful, satisfying puzzle requiring alert vigilance and participation from the reader, who is rewarded manifold for his or her tenacity.
Notwithstanding the comic relief of high gothic, mint-julippy antics and over-the-top Southern satire, such as the University Baptist wedding reception, Tigner’s frightening rendition of “the good old days with the good old boys” is a deadly serious portrayal of a period many of us hoped had been put largely behind us. It bears re-examining in our present climate of nostalgia, in certain sectors, for “simpler” times. This book is well-worth a careful read. It will haunt you for some time to come.

-- Poet and author, Diane G. Martin has been awarded the Diana Woods prize for creative nonfiction, and published in several publications including OJAL, Poetry Circle, and New London Writers. She is also a photographer who has been exhibited in the United States, Russia, and Italy.

A powerfully written tale that exposes the frightful darkness which can hide behind the otherwise ordinary facade of small-town life. Tigner’s prose and well-written dialogue will make you deeply uncomfortable and pray that the picture they paint is one that is forever buried in the past, and will never again be part of our future.

-- Amir Husain, "The Sentient Machine" (Scribner)

A widow with a five-year old boy in 1964 had little chance of getting hitched again in small-town Texas, but Cathy got lucky: she was approached by a doctor. He’d replace the father figure her son Carey had lost the year before. Or so she thought.

Her new husband had a big house with a full-time maid, Cilla, plus handyman Lamar, Cilla’s son, who kept the yard going year-round between his other odd jobs.

Sev was sophisticated, cultured, disciplined, hard-working. And self-medicating: a darkening habit, feeding other habits, whose tentacles soon spread out in sinister ways to envelope Lamar, other members of the county’s impoverished black community and, ultimately, Carey himself.

Only Cilla is witness to the subtle, slowly evolving malaise. But it is Felicia, Lamar’s girlfriend, who pieces it all together – and pays the price...though she’s not the only one who gets the sharp end of the stick.

Readers react to Pick-up Sticks

A gripping story (or rather stories within stories), written in a lyrical, semi-Southern-Gothic style that fits the tale. Mr. Tigner has a keen "sense of place" and atmosphere that makes the book's environment come to life. A wonderfully haunting book.

Theresa Hitchens, technology editor, policy analyst and writer; senior research associate at CISSM (Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland)

Though a very personal, sometimes tender story, this book reveals Texas as it was: isolated, bawdy, racist, class-conscious, polite and downright funny. It reveals, as well, the pain and confusion wrought by a selfish man on his family and others who depend on him. Many of the characters are indelibly drawn with few words and dialogue only a local could write. I feel as though I have met a couple of them; and can almost taste the barbecue; feel the stifling heat of the Lone Star State.

Archie Harders, bibliophile, Arlington, VA

Our author obviously knows East Texas. He has captured the speech patterns and lifestyle of that era perfectly - one of my most enjoyable parts of his story. We have a gifted new author.

Dolphia Blocker, resident, California

In his family-thriller novel, Pick-up Sticks, Brooks Tigner pulls back the curtain on corruption, vice and immorality pervasive in the everyday life of a rural East Texas town, rife with false realities. From the banks of toxic creosote ponds to the upper echelons of higher education, his story weaves an accurate representation of how it was to live back then. Regardless of one's perspective, the poignancy of his characters is enlightening, immersing all in the psycho-Sixties and a society still adjusting to post-Civil War realities while resisting the post-War Two modern world at its doorstep.

Linda-Watson Jones, retired teacher, East Texas

Pick-Up Sticks, is a powerful book that addresses several sensitive social issues that have been parts of our society throughout time. The story begins in the tumultuous 60's, - the Viet Nam Conflict, drugs, racism, and equality. Tigner has woven the past and present social issues together seamlessly using both the stark facts and humor. One asks after reading this have things really changed in our society, or are they just less camouflaged today.

Willa Moore, retired social worker, Colorado

If you are from Texas and old enough to remember the 1960s, you will enjoy this nostalgic trip down memory lane that does not leave out the regrettable, such as the racism that tarnishes the memory. If you are not from Texas or have never been, nor recall that era, you will still enjoy the ride, as you experience life in a small East Texas town, with its unique characters and dialect and expressions. You will also learn a few interesting historical facts, some unsavory, about the area and the world. Be forewarned, however. There is an unpalatable subplot smoldering beneath the fun. If you don't enjoy stories that spell it all out for you, you will surely relish this one!

D. Ziv, reader, California

I found this book to be a provocative, poignant and emotionally sensitive dissertation of extraordinarily difficult events in the lives of children and the lasting impact upon their well-being as adults. Their entangled lives will make you laugh, cry and angry as each chapter deftly engages your senses, emotions and intellect. Brooks Tigner's ability to present to the reader a deeply personal relatedness and descriptive characterization of the residents of a small close-knit community in Texas during the mid-20th century is remarkable. This is an engaging novel of yesteryear with topics so critically pertinent in today's world.

Stanley Piotroski, abstract artist, Washington DC


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Ann Cahill2018-09-19 14:49

This book is an absorbing and tantalising read. While the events unfold in a particularly attractive manner, more or less as seen through the eyes of a very normal young American boy in the 1960s, there are notes scattered throughout of issues that are not totally uncovered, and so you are challenged to continue reading in the hope of learning more.

There is a veil also covering many of the relationships between the characters, that are unveiled partly as you read through the skilfully written narrative.

Even the most socially aware could be lulled into an acceptance of the status quo of the era in this small town. The very unequal balance between the whites and blacks in Texas, the acceptance of the inequality by the characters that underlies even what we would see as the least prejudiced relationships- brings to mind that great American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.

None of the ills that Pick-up Sticks seeks to portray are laboured - misogyny, bullying, violence, class distinction, collusion between the races on corrupt and in fact murderous practices. All are dealt with in their context of time and place, removing any attempt to impose shame on any of the characters, making it easier to identify with them, lulling the reader into a sense of acceptance too.

Some of the bigger issues, barely referenced but subtly - almost too subtly - coast under the surface of the narrative, reflecting the semi-secretive society of a small Texan town.

The resulting personal trauma and violence of much of this is seen, as through a mist, in the final chapters, but like the events in such communities, is left barely referenced, just a hint here and there, a glance, a lowered voice trailing off mid sentence. Leaving the outsider with questions and doubts and feeling a little unsettled - as this book does. This protection of community by silence and acceptance of ills is not confined to the US south in the 1960s, but obviously is to be found throughout the world and currently.

This is the kind of book that lingers in the mind and deserves to be read more than once.


Gloria Schwind2018-09-04 22:25

"...and dear Sarah retreated a little further into the fog of recall each year, drifting to the upper latitudes of her mental map, growing a little flatter, a little paler; soon to be nothing more than a wisp in memory's nether land."

It's with such rich descriptions of people and places that Brooks Tigner takes us back to 1960s small town Texas. I could almost feel the unrelenting heat and evening chorus of cicadas in the background. I hope Mr. Tigner is working hard on his second novel. I'm waiting!

Gloria Schwind, Retired HR administrator, West Lafayette, Indiana

Brooks Tigner2018-09-05 14:56

Dear Gloria: thank you for reminding me that I'd written that sentence (it had already turned to a wisp in my own memory's netherland!) and that you enjoyed the book. I've got another manuscript for a social comedy almost ready, and am working on a historical novel with a big thematic twist to it. Stay tuned on this website for further announcements.


Brooks Tigner2018-06-14 14:45

Variation on #MeToo.

A very good analysis by The Atlantic of the problems of masculinity in America.



Brooks Tigner2018-06-05 15:45

BOOK CHAT: Utmost Ministry.

Just finished reading, "The Ministry of Utmost Happiness", by Arundhati Roy.

Weaknesses: The tome-length was a challenge to finish in place due to long recitations of documentary evidence, epistoary passages, etc. woven into the narrative. Also, too many secondary characters for this reader to keep track of, and the obscurity of India's internecine conflicts (which only those who follow contemporary political-miltitary events in the country) will fully grasp.

Strengths: The poetry of the prose; the character development of the main protagonists and Roy's ability to drag you into the sights, smells and noises of urban India at its most dense.

Conclusion: a good read, particularly for the non-Indian world.

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