For his second novel, Crossing the Lines, Atlanta author Richard Doster resurrects small-town sports writer Jack Hall. When Hall interviews for a job at the Atlanta Constitution in the fall of 1955, he expects to end up covering the Atlanta Crackers, a team he calls “the New York Yankees of minor league baseball, the best team ever assembled in a Southern city.” Outside of some experience helping a black baseball player sign to an all-white team (the subject of Doster’s first novel, Safe at Home), he’s less than concerned about the burgeoning set of conflicts materializing into a Civil Rights Movement outside his front door. Being a white, middle-class guy means he doesn’t want to be bothered by it all, it seems. But Ralph McGill, his new editor at the Constitution, doesn’t give him that option.
Hall’s first assignment isn’t a lazy afternoon at the minor league ballpark. Instead, McGill demands he find out the details of a public transit boycott forming in Montgomery, Ala. There, Hall meets a young, charismatic reverend named Martin. (Yes — that Martin.) Crossing the Lines is the story of Jack’s transformation from a complacent, white Southerner to a reporter on the front lines of Atlanta’s much storied Civil Rights history. Doster revisits the era’s most pivotal events and personalities — Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., Sam Phillips of Sun Records in Memphis, the 1956 Sugar Bowl at Georgia Tech — through Jack’s reporting. By the novel’s close, Jack and his family have joined a lunch-counter protest, no longer reluctant to speak up and face resistance for the greater good.
Crossing’s research-fueled writing method has yielded a coherent vision of Atlanta 50 years ago, bent on the political tension between the Atlanta Journal (conservative) and the Atlanta Constitution (liberal). In a postscript to the novel, Doster explains that he formed the dialogue with icons such as McGill and King by cobbling together quotes, interviews, and editorials to achieve a quasi-historical accuracy in their voices. That accuracy can be trying at times, like when Flannery O’Connor appears to speak directly from her most famous essays. While Doster’s approach isn’t revolutionary, it is a fresh take on this vital history.
Crossing the Lines by Richard Doster. David C Cook. $14.99. 396 pp.