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Rebecca Hollingsworth

The Catbird Seat

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At first, Gillian Culkin feels only mildly inconvenienced by crowds of demonstrators debating the presence of the Confederate flag flying brazenly atop the South Carolina State House. Gil passes these people every day as she makes her way to work in the Caroliniana Library on the University of South Carolina campus. Like so many other White Southerners, she had never before given much thought to racial issues. But over the course of a few weeks, she comes to realize that the flag represents important and entrenched issues of race and inequality. Gil finds her views on race developing and evolving as she examines the past and sees its influence on the present.

Meanwhile, at the Caroliniana, she studies the 1857 diary of a South Carolina dirt farmer named William Medlin. Hollingsworth makes him the center of a second story. Thinking to turn a quick profit, Medlin buys a slave at auction. In the course of the tragic journey he then undertakes with his newly acquired slave, Medlin’s views of enslavement change.

The two narratives―one told in the present, the other in the past, in alternating chapters―provide a probing and insightful look at what it means to be human within an often inhumane system