For many of us, Chapel Hill is indeed “the southern part of heaven” but in this novel our little college town has its share of sinners. Professors preen and jockey for position; their wives gossip while maids do the housework, and students just wanna have fun. Except for one student, Lyman Caine, who writes a short story about an inter-racial tryst. Liberal young graduate instructor Joel Adams comes in for a lot of criticism for encouraging Caine, but the consequences for the student are worse. Lyman Caine’s fatigue leads to a diagnosis of sickle-cell anemia. In an era before student medical records were truly private, this news travels fast. Caine acknowledges his multi-racial heritage; the racial policies of the university at the time call for Caine’s expulsion.
Adams feels some discomfort about his student’s situation, but he is preoccupied by his own concerns–finishing his degree, his father’s death, his relationship with his wife, how much to buck the system in town and at the university. Joel Adams is the central character of the novel, but his wife, Eleanor, and his father, a local newspaperman, are far more likable characters. Eleanor’s good influence helps Joel ride out the storm of controversy even as she forgives his personal failings.
Chapel Hill is called “Churchill” in this novel, but most of the campus buildings retain their true names. Longtime local readers may recognize variations on some early 20th century faculty names, but most reviewers professed not to be able to identify particular characters with real people.
Check for this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.