By Elizabeth Cook, Salisbury Post, June 22, 1997
If you think of Ed Norvell as the quiet lawyer on South Fulton Street, his first published novel, "Southport," will surprise you.
It's a frank look at growing up in the South in the '60s and '70s. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. Blacks and whites had to be forced to attend the same schools. The Vietnam War raged on TV each night. And the AIDS virus had not yet reared its ugly head.
Many young people withdrew to a life of sex and drugs, and that includes the main character of "Southport," Todd Field.
"Soon she was moving her hands all over me, unbuttoning my shirt, and running her fingers across my chest and back," the first-person narrative relate. "The sweet smell of flowers and the sounds of the night mixed with the drink and conversation to create an intoxicating brew."
Ed! I've never sat across the Rotary Club table from someone who's written about stuff like that before.
But then, you don't encounter too many published novelsits in Salisbury.
If you pick up a copy of "Southport: A Story of Second Chances," you'll be swept up quickly in Todd's search for something and someone to believe in.
He starts out miserably enough. Todd grows up in Duplin County on a 120-acre farm operated by his narrow-minded, wife-abusing, hard-drinking father—a man so worthless he won't even fire the hired man who makes sexual advances toward teen-ager Todd.
How despicable is the father? When he decides his family home-place is too much trouble to keep up, he rolls a trailer in front of it, moves his family in and eventually demolishes the house.
That may be the very personification of evil in the eyes of Norvell, former president of Historic Salisbury Foundation.
Worse yet, when news flashes on TV that Martin Luther King Jr. has been assassinated, Daddy and his beer-drinking buddies let out a "Yahoo!"
The scene illustrates how Norvell drew on his life experiences without writing a book that was directly autobiographical.
"I was at Episcopal High School in study hall, and someone walked in and announced that Martin Luther King had been shot," Norvell recalls. "All the kids around me let up this rebel yell of 'Hurray!'
"I thought, 'How can anyone say 'hurray' over another man being killed? And what am I doing here?' "
The next night, in the same study hall, he and his classmates saw Washington in flames on the television. Those were the times, he said, in which he and Todd came of age.
"It was just a really different time to grow up in," Norvell said. "It was an abusive time. People turned against institutions and toward drugs and sex," Norvell says. "But ultimately our generation turned back towards family."
Eventually Todd does, too. But he has to hit bottom first.
Norvell has a simple, straightforward style that sparkles when he describes the coast he knows well from frequent fishing trips and vacations with his family.
"The water moved like liquid silver glazed by the midday sun, as the skiff meandered through the marsh creek behind Bald Head Island. Birds cried out, and the shimmering grass was alive with the sounds of crickets, cicadas, and insects, singing praise to the day. The only manmade sound was the low hum of the outboard motor mounted in a well in the middle of Mitch's flat-bottomed boat. I could smell the salty air, the smell of gasoline, and the odor of the marsh mud."
If that doesn't put you on the North Carolina coast, nothing will.
"Southport" is rich in vivid descriptions, coastal lore, and dramatic setting. The story is particularly good in Todd's flashbacks to the farm, where he struggles against his father and he old South way of doing things.
The book could use more introspection on the part of Todd, though. He is pretty much a man of action, not words—and maybe that's just the way it is when guys are going through their wild-oats stage. But even at that, I found myself wishing Norvell would slow Todd down a bit and reflect more on what he is doing. Sometimes he seems simple.
Maybe that's more of a beef with the male psyche than with Norvell's book. This is, after all, a man's story.
At any rate, once you start reading "Southport" you'll want to finish and see how Todd's tale turns out. He does indeed get his second chances along the way. And he proves that you don't have to have a Ph.D. to make the best of them.
"It's a frank look at growing up in the South in the '60s and '70s."
"If you pick up a copy of "Southport: A Story of Second Chances," you'll be swept up quickly in Todd's search for something and someone to believe in."
"Once you start reading "Southport" you'll want to finish and see how Todd's tale turns out."