The Huntsman: A Novel by Whitney TerrellThe Huntsman: A Novel by Whitney Terrell

The Huntsman: A Novel

byWhitney Terrell

Paperback | July 30, 2002

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The "searing" (New York Times Book Review) first novel by Whitney Terrell, author of The Good Lieutenant

A New York Times Notable Book

When a young debutante's body is pulled from the Missouri River, the inhabitants of Kansas City-a metropolis fractured by class division-are forced to examine their own buried history. At the center of the intrigue is Booker Short, a bitter young black man who came to town bearing a grudge about the past. His ascent into white Kansas City society, his romance with the young and wealthy Clarissa Sayers, and his involvement in her death polarize the city and lead to the final, shocking revelation of the wrong that Booker has come to avenge. With razor-sharp detail that presents the city as a character as vivid as the people living there, Whitney Terrell explores a divided society with unflinching insight.
Whitney Terrell was born and raised in Kansas City. His debut novel was a New York Times Notable Book. He is the New Letters writer in residence at the University of Missouri–Kansas City.
Title:The Huntsman: A NovelFormat:PaperbackPublished:July 30, 2002Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0142001317

ISBN - 13:9780142001318


Read from the Book

The Huntsman, Chapter OneFOR TWO GENERATIONS in the city's life there had not been much comment about its river. The populace moved southward from its banks into rolling hills and finally board-flat prairie, easily corralled, paved, and developed into suburban plots. Iron-gray and sinuous, banks heaped with deadfall and bright flecks of plastic trash, fish poisoned, docks crumbling, stinking of loam and rot, the river seemed an uncomfortable reminder of a gothic past when life had not been so clean. Bums lived along the river within sight of the mayor's office, a paper mill and several chemical companies rimmed the levee, and on the east side, the river flowed past housing projects for the poor. Most Kansas Citians never saw these things. Once every three years or so, some young reporter at the Star would get spring fever and spend the day riding upriver on an empty grain barge. In the morning, citizens at their breakfast tables held up bright color photos of the river's wide expanse and read a breathless article invoking Twain and explaining, to everyone's amazement, that barge traffic still existed. In fact, barges (this year's article read) transport one and a half million tons of cargo annually and are cheaper than trucks or rail."Now there's some decent reporting!" Mercury Chapman exclaimed, tapping the article with his fork. "Tells you how things work, instead of just writing up the next moronic car wreck. It's not that I don't have sympathy for any poor bastard has to die like that, but what good's the sympathy of a stranger? When I die...Lilly, what's the plan around here for when I die?" he shouted, suddenly rearing from his seat."The plan is, you do it after three o'clock." Lilly Washington glided through the porch door and retrieved the pitcher of milk so it wouldn't spoil. She had cooked for Mercury for thirty years, the last ten since his wife's death, and in the mornings she had business to administer. "At three o'clock the roof man's coming about that leak, and you've got to be here to show him around. Wednesdays are when I get my hair done.""Ha!" Mercury said, sitting down."You've got shaving cream in your ear." Lilly's crisp lemon pantsuit darted, finchlike, into the kitchen's gloom."Ha!" Mercury said, rearing again for effect. The small comedy pleased him. He had talked to himself for most of his adult life, preferring to communicate by way of competing monologues rather than formal conversation, wielding the non sequitur and selective deafness like a surgeon's blade. His wife had been a formidable competitor in this running gag-in talk he found most men lugubrious-and it had been the boon of his widowerhood to discover Lilly's abilities in the field. Chattering to himself in an empty house, he would've taken his life by his own hand. "Decent reporting!" he repeated. "How much gloom is in the paper, and how much wonder all around? What about phones? You can call China by a machine on the wall, have been able to for thirty years, but who knows how it works? Or where clean water comes from, or how the TV signal goes out? How does beef get to market? Who built the Broadway Bridge? All Henry puts in here is sports, death, and politics: nothing for the common man. That's what I'm going to tell him, and watch the look on his fat Texas face...." Henry Latham was the president of the Kansas City Star, and Mercury often invited him bass fishing on weekends. He shook the paper and gazed past his Wolferman's English muffin at a photograph of the river's broad and muddy flow, a scalloped line of cottonwoods in the background."I like to hear that river's got a use still yet," he said, raising his voice so Lilly could hear him in the kitchen. "Booker and I went goose hunting once right along her banks, down near old Pete Martin's place. We laid out in a muddy field."A snort of disapproval disturbed the pantry. The words "That's one way to camouflage a boy that black" reached Mercury's ears."Maybe he built a raft and went downriver," Mercury answered sadly, as if he had not heard a thing. "Floated clean away."That same morning, sixty miles east of Mercury's cool, porch-flanked house on the 500 block of Highland Drive, Stan Granger headed out to check his lines. Dredging, dikes, and levees had transformed the Missouri River from a wandering, swampy titan a mile or two in width to little more than a drainage ditch (nostalgics said), at best a half mile from bank to bank. People believed that the Mighty Mo would never flood again, her mythic connection with great rivers from Abraham's time forward removed, like a stinger, by the Corps of Engineers. Still, outside Kansas City, the river flowed somnolent and muscular, centuryless, churning on without the permission of man's belief. At thirty-three, Stan Granger had acquired the habits of a much older man, a loner who fished more by habit than for useful trade. He had lost the necessity of words. Days passed in bundles when he did not speak, and as he hauled his trot line outside Waterloo, the town where he lived, his mind brooded with the same glinting, continuous flow as the river, its steady and unbroken stream of action unappended to so flimsy a vehicle as speech. So when he saw the trot line bellied far too deeply between the oak trunk and the anchor buoy a hundred yards offshore, he did not think it. He quartered his skiff against the current, set the line over his oarlock, and slid along it patiently, lifting and rebaiting the hooks that hung from steel-tipped leaders. He had caught a drum and two small catfish, and he broke their backs along the gunwales and dropped them on the skiff's floor. The closer he got to the trot line's middle, the harder the work became: the line hitched and popped jerkily along the galvanized oarlock, the weight pulled his gunwale down, and the river entered in a thin, gruel-like stream. Stan shifted his body away, grunting, to keep the gunwale up. He still did not think it but merely followed from one action to the next, each determining perfectly its successor, and when the weight and current grew too strong, he freed the line from the oarlock and played it by hand. The river darkened the flannel arms of his shirt. At the height of this ballet, his elbows bent and he thrust his chin beyond the gunwale, appearing from a distance to be ready to spring a handstand in the long, bright scarf of river, and then he set his back and tumbled a dead woman's body into his boat. Leaders trailed after it like roots, and Stan cut them one by one with his knife, just past the steel.The corpse's head rested against the skiff's middle seat, her legs jumbled stiffly in the bow. A windbreaker had shifted rudely off her shoulders, pulling back her arms, and her breasts pressed dark aureoles against a golf shirt emblazoned with a country club's burgundy crest. She wore a khaki skirt, a needlepoint belt, and a two-toned, spiked golf shoe on her right foot, a tee stuck through the lacing flap; her left foot was bare. Her sable hair fanned the skiff's bench between Stan's knees, and her pupils, in death, had rolled backward in her head so she stared white-eyed at a cloud of starlings angling in unison against a glowing field of blue. He bent over the dead young woman without repulsion and reached beneath her shirt for a charm, which he silently unclasped. One of his hooks had caught her by the neck, and he removed it with a deft twist, leaving a glossy and bloodless wound.Stan finished running his line. He had difficulty untangling his bait pot from the dead woman's legs, but he managed. He pulled in two carp and one more catfish and, reaching his anchored buoy, judged that if the river rose two feet more, the buoy would be submerged. None of this he put into words, but firing the skiff's outboard and heading back toward town, the dead woman's bare, finely arched foot jutting into his line of sight, he felt the need of them. He could see the small town of Waterloo banked steeply on the bluff, clapboard buildings screened by cottonwoods and willows, the railroad grade, and above everything the white spire of the church steeple. "And on a Wednesday," were the words he found. "Right on a Wednesday morning, too."At the landing, he tossed the fish in a bucket of water and left it in the shade and walked into town wearing overalls and a dirty shirt. At the church, early choir practice had begun, and organ music drifted through the still, gnat-laden streets, and when Stan arrived at the sheriff's house-a split-level ranch along a gulley on the edge of town-the tan patrol car shimmered in the drive. The sheriff stepped out onto his balding lawn with the city paper's sports page in his hand."I got one," Stan said.The sheriff glanced at him quickly and then looked back at his box score. "Dead body, you mean.""Yeah.""That's the first one in a year. Black fella?" Sheriff Wade Crapple was forty-five and stood a full head shorter than Stan. He had played second base both in high school and for his company team in the marines and conveyed, even while reading, a laconic preparedness for the imagined, well-struck ball. "Go on, tell me," he said. "I can do two things at once.""She's white," Stan said. "Young. My dad used to talk about the Italians came down in the forties, but not nobody white. Not a lady."The sheriff sniffed. "That's not what's bothering you.""Why wouldn't it be?" Stan said. He chafed his broad hands, the necessary evasion stretching before him like a desert. "You throw a person in the river in Kansas City, and this is where they'll beach. Currents. City pitches her trash out, and it floats up at our door. I've took fifteen bodies out of that water, and that's how I looked at it-cleaning up trash-but this is the first time I've seen a face like that. Clean, young-looking. Been out golfing, I think.""A debutante, eh?" the sheriff said. "They'll have the reporters out for that."Stan Granger had expected a different body, if he'd expected one at all. The two were intimately connected in his memory-the dead girl, Booker Short's thin silhouette-and as the sheriff's patrol car wheeled him forward, his mind went in reverse, calling up the shadowed figure he'd seen outside old Pete Martin's cabin, two years ago last spring. Blacks of any sort were a rarity in Chapman County, and so Stan had punched his brakes, fishtailing on the gravel road, until he recognized Mercury Chapman's more familiar, whiter face, following the black one with a shovel and a rake.He'd left them alone for a couple of days. He could not have said why, since he was caretaker of the place, except for the fleeting sense, garnered across a hundred yards of upturned soybeans, that some transaction was being conducted in which he did not care to participate. On the third day, he'd brought the water truck. The cabin stood at the end of a raised and rutted drive that split the soybean field like a dike. Beyond the cabin, a curtain of elms and pin oaks hid five hundred acres of prime duck fields bordered by a creek that, with luck, would flood them when the rains commenced. Stan had pulled the tanker in a half circle before the unshaded cabin, the screw mounts for its rain gauge blazing hot.Seeing nobody, he'd stepped down."I didn't do it any," a voice said.Wheeling, Stan had seen an empty soybean field and a washing machine colandered by target practice, and when he turned back the boy was slouched before his truck grille, head tilted, as though leaning back against a post where none in fact existed. His skin rose smooth and intensely black from the zip-collared neck of his orange shirt, though when he moved, Stan could see glimmerings of yellow in the tone and a fine, adolescent mustache on his lip. The boy glanced off toward the duck fields, sucking hard on a cigarette, and then stamped out the butt. He lifted his eyes to Stan."Just so's you know."Stan's nostrils caught the distinct reek of pot, wafting in the breeze.Then Mercury Chapman splintered through the treeline below, talking and grunting dyspeptically, as was his habit: "And so the psychiatrist tells the priest, 'I know one thing they forgot to mention in the Bible, and that's PMS.'" He labored up a short hill of thigh-deep swale, a machete dangling from his wrist. "'Hell, no, they didn't !' this preacher says. 'What about the part where Mary rides Joseph's ass clear to Bethlehem?' Hello, Stan. Why haven't you gentlemen introduced yourselves? There's goddamn enough lack of manners in the city without we start it out in the sticks. I'm of the idea we should dig this clubhouse a permanent latrine." With this he marched between them and, turning on his heel, disappeared around the cabin's corner, where Stan heard him open the door."Stan Granger," Stan said, holding out his hand.The boy leaned forward from his imaginary post and gripped Stan's fingers, smiling. It was a smile of reserve, blurred in meaning, and Stan believed he'd just been invited to share amusement at the eccentricities of his employer. He closed his face."Booker Short is my name," the boy said when they were no longer touching. "So you work for the man?""I look after the club.""Is that 'man' singular or plural?" Mercury said, rounding the cabin again. He'd exchanged the machete for the key to the water tank. "Booker is teaching me a whole nother language, Stan. All these years, and I never learned to speak jive. 'Man' means white people in general, right?"The boy whistled. He lifted his cap and looked bleakly over the gray, long-stretching fields and the dust-streaked water truck."I have just heard a living person say 'jive,'" he said.Mercury sucked the spittle off his lip. "I tell ya what, kid," he said. "Me and this old boy are gonna teach you how to fill a country water tank and work a piece-of-crap pump like Stan's got here. And you cut us some slack on vocabulary." His words were friendly, but irritation whined through his gray-tufted nose, and, as he headed for the tank, Stan saw the boy staring at him with what he judged to be (at the time, of course, before he knew Booker-though even now he did not know for sure) a look of hate.This confusion had always troubled Stan about Booker Short-both now, as he rode in Sheriff Crapple's cruiser, and in the past. Click, like the aperture of a camera, and Booker changed from one thing to the next. His first words to Stan, "I didn't do it any," had been spoken in what Stan would have called street talk, familiar from shouting black singers on TV and pretty much how Stan expected him to speak. But later, when he said his name, the voice had been rich and melodious, each consonant savored and pronounced in the manner of black preachers or older actors, and still later, when he'd become upset over the word jive (or was it what Mercury had said about "the man," or had he even been upset at all? In retrospect, Stan still could not be sure), he'd spoken with a parodic English burr.One person could not be so many different things before somebody decided one of them was wrong, Stan's thinking went. And furthermore, what didn't he do? Stan hadn't even known what the boy was doing out in that cabin with Mercury Chapman, a wealthy and well-connected man. Uncertainties like these made Stan's broad hands squeeze and loosen against the patrol car's polished vinyl seat. Had he in fact seen hatred in the boy's gaze? And if so, why? He still didn't know the answer to that. Nor could he say for sure what Mercury had meant when he drove with Stan to the front gate and folded three hundred dollars into his palm, saying, "It's not the job you've done. The kid needs a chance to work, so I'm going to have him look after the place. I'd appreciate it if you'd look in on him time to time." It was the first time in fifteen years that Stan had ever heard Mercury plead for anything. The older man wore a faded pink handkerchief around his head, clamped beneath a straw hat and soaked with sweat, rubber muck boots, and a tarnished service revolver on his hip. His pale-blue eyes watered in their sunburned sockets."I can't promise more than twice a week," Stan had told him."If I wanted you to baby-sit him," Mercury said, "I'd have offered more."That had been the beginning of it: the first appearance of mystery to a man not prone to surmise. He could not remember when he had first seen his father unhook a body from his trot line or utter a low "Hep, hep" as their skiff nudged the deliquescent skull of a Mexican, snagged by his belt loop on a submerged limb. He had never puzzled over the origins of the bodies that he ferried to the river's shore, any more than he had wondered about Mercury Chapman's regular life in the city, sixty miles away. There had been, perhaps, grander times for bodies back in his father's youth: soft-fingered bookies with their heads wrapped in pillowcases, gangsters awash in tailored wool suits, their vests like corsets around their corruption, front men murdered with piano wire or lawyers punctured cleanly in the temple by a bullet. Until his own death, Stan's father had kept a set of brass knuckles as a paperweight, salvaged from a bouncer's full-length cashmere coat. But it was Stan who'd remained as witness to the river's decline, both in the fish that surfaced tumored and deformed by poison and in the increasing tawdriness of its dead. They arrived now barefoot, bony, and half starved, or wearing gaudy basketball sneakers and bright-red warm-up suits, their teeth inlaid farcically with gold. He had seen or heard tell of Vietnamese, Filipinos, Mexicans, and Chileans, but mostly there were the blacks, drug dealers, he guessed, participants in some trade violent and illegal enough to get them shot. Beyond that, however, he had avoided any curiosity about their lives. The terrors and strivings, the bereaved relatives and yellowed Polaroids stashed in cupboards of the hopeful children these corpses once had been-all the things implicit in the dead he retrieved-had never managed to disturb his peace of mind.The truth was, until he met Booker, he'd never known a black man alive.That spring Mercury had stayed with the boy for a week. There was a second building on the place, a converted boat shed, which had for a period of time housed a succession of itinerant farm hands who squatted there rent-free in exchange for keeping an eye on things during the off-season. This had been some fifteen years prior, before Stan was hired to do that work, and the shed had since fallen into disrepair-windows broken, raccoons and possums filling its corners with hard, white turds. Mercury and Booker worked on it by day and in the evening retired to the cabin, a strange, fanciful couple whose figures appeared matchlike across the milo fields when Stan passed by in his truck. One day, the Volvo disappeared, leaving the grounds preternaturally still. When on the second day it did not return, Stan waited until late afternoon and then parked before the driveway gate, unlocked it, and drove on in.The sound of his truck announced him, and as he strode through the mudroom, past racks of hip waders hanging by their heels, he heard the scrape of furniture, sudden and concealed. When he entered the cabin itself, Booker sat facing him, shirtless, in a ladder-backed chair. "Hello, Stan," the boy said, his accent this time smooth and rootless."Why, howdy," Stan said. His greeting died when he noticed Booker's unnatural posture, his chair pulled away from the long, wax-dribbled dining table so the boy faced the door directly, his feet together and his naked shoulders braced. Stan had once felt the same uneasiness visiting a widowed farmer that he knew, and had stepped out on the back porch to find the man's hunting dog, its throat slit, wrapped in a bloodstained sheet. "Wouldn't stop barking," said the widower sanely. But Stan had sensed within that house the passage of loneliness and unreason, like a solitary summer cloud, and he felt the same presence now. "I suppose you're getting along fine," he said."Mmmm," the boy said, looking not at Stan but out the door."Doing work down at the shack?""Oh, yeah, lots of work."Stan watched the boy's hands flutter and expire in his lap. The cabin had no electricity, only a portable generator run at intervals to prime the water pump, and he noticed that the gas lamps along the rafters were all lit and glowing despite the afternoon sun. The floor and kitchen were methodically neat. "I reckon we've got time to take a look down there," Stan said."'Time'?" Booker's teeth flashed, and he covered his mouth with his hand. "Did you say 'time'?""That's what I said.""'Cause that's a good one, man-time. That's one thing Booker Short's got in spades, a lifetime supply with warranty. No deposit, no return. Everlasting flavor for your everfresh breath. The old man said you were slow, but you are an outrageously funny man...Stan.""Do you want to go look at it or not?" Stan said."Let me see if I can, um...pencil you in."The gossamer strands of spider webs that laddered the path down to the shack told Stan what he already suspected: Booker hadn't been down it since Mercury left. The boy sauntered after him with a pair of yellow earphones curled about his head, humming lightly. Stan had been certain of his impression of loneliness and fear, of some crisis that he'd interrupted, and yet Booker's response to his sympathy was ridicule. Why waste my time with that? Stan thought angrily as he pushed his way down the faded path and around the copse of evergreens that hid the shack.At first sight, the "rehabilitation" of that structure seemed nearly complete, a surprise to Stan, who had known Mercury Chapman to be an energetic but wholly ineffectual carpenter. A new roof had been laid in and covered with rolled shingle, the window screens replaced, the stooped doorjamb torn out and roughed in square. While Stan examined these things, Booker stumbled about the piles of lumber and stacked paint cans as if he did not exist. When Stan looked again, Booker had squatted beside the warped porch with a square and a tape measure and was writing numbers on a block of pine."Planning to build something?" Stan asked, grinning.The boy plucked out one earphone and laid it against his scalp. "How's that?" he asked."I said, are you gonna fabricate something today?" It was the same tone Stan used with Mercury, physical labor being one topic on which he presumed to condescend."Got to shore up the joist for this porch," Booker said. "Whole thing's rotted out underneath. I figure we can sister in the new joists beside the old, through-bolt the two together, but I'm gonna need a couple jacks to hold the thing in place. Don't feel like having a porch fall on me, out here alone."Stan tugged up the thighs of his overalls. He said, "Let's see.""You got a flashlight?""Little one on my keychain.""Well, shimmy on underneath."When Stan crawled out from beneath the porch, he handed Booker the tape measure. "Thirty-seven and a quarter, the joist I looked at. They might not all be the same."Booker was sketching deftly on the woodblock, his earphones replaced. Stan set the tape on the porch. The boy seemed scrawny from growth, and his collarbone bulged awkwardly beneath his skin, too large for the slender child's biceps and sunken chest that hung below it, loose, like cloth on a rack. Sweat glistened on the small pooch of stomach above his jeans. "I guess you did most of this work yourself," Stan said."How's that?""I said I was wondering where you learned your carpentry."Booker put down his pencil and stared levelly at Stan. "I took shop in jail."He picked up the pencil again."That right?" Stan asked."Yep."The porch and the small, beaten circle of grass where the two men squatted were covered, at that time of day, by the purple umbra of the nearby firs; beyond them the land fell away in shades of broken gold to a still slough overhung by cottonwoods, the figures of the two men vibrant against the cool russet of the larger trees."How long was you in jail for?" Stan asked."Sentenced to five years, served two, supposed to do the last three on parole," Booker said. "Only I'm not on parole.""How come you're not on parole?""Because I jumped it," Booker said.Stan was not aware that they had struck a bargain until some weeks later, when he was buying groceries in town. For years he'd purchased canned tins of soup, bags of rice, and sandwich meat in something like a trance, ambling through the aisles and grabbing whatever came to hand, and so it was with an obscure sense of self-deceit that he found himself at the counter not with his regular arm-basket, but pushing a cart. "Understand you've got a new neighbor," the grocer said, "got himself some trouble with the law.""What neighbor is that?" Stan said, browsing the gum rack."That black boy out on Pete Martin's place.""Didn't have any troubles when Mr. Chapman brought him down. Maybe you've seen him do something wrong since then.""Just thought maybe you'd know about it." The grocer balanced a watermelon on his scale and grinned at the pale-blue numbered lights."I didn't want that," Stan said."No? You mean somebody else put it in your cart.""I mean I don't want it," Stan said. "You just hand it to me, and I'll put it back."It hadn't really been friendship, or at least Stan would not have called it that; in fact, he did not know what to call it. When he brought Booker the groceries, it was as though the boy had known that they would come, if not from Stan then from somewhere else, despite the fact that he had no car or money and lived five miles of gravel road from town. The same sense applied to the hydraulic jacks Stan had carted out from the mechanic's shop to prop up the porch: not ungratefulness, but calm acceptance without admission of debt, as though the boy had expected that if Stan didn't bring the jacks, they would just materialize somehow out of the club's five hundred acres of smartweed, sumac, and willows. Perhaps it had been the sheer conundrum of Booker Short himself. Stan's own trailer stood on four hundred feet of riverfront land due north of the cabin, fully wired, supplied with running water and a satellite dish for TV, and in the hot nights of late summer, he'd lain beneath a single sheet, the fan blowing on him from the dresser, and found himself thinking of the boy. He would have no electric fan. He would have no television to provide voices against the night. He would have no phone (though Stan, admittedly, rarely used his own). Stan himself was well acquainted with the dangers of a solitary life, had worked hard to adjust himself-he accepted, yes, the rigors of it, the barren necessity of taking himself in hand before the kitchen sink and washing his own seed down afterward with a sponge, accepted the poverty of averting his eyes from his own embarrassment. And yet he had the sense that Booker had not accepted this at all, out of either ignorance or some better quality: he was waiting for something. Perhaps it was this quality of waiting that attracted Stan. That poor kid acts like something's going to happen out here, he would think, staring at the same acoustic-tiled ceiling he had stared at for the past fifteen years. Then his heart would quicken as he thought, By God, what if it did?An implicit moment of change had been approaching then, because in November the club members would come to hunt. The cabin was known as old Pete Martin's place by habit more than accuracy. It was supposed to have been a ski chalet. The company that invented the prefabricated chalets had gone broke selling them in Kansas City, so Dr. Martin had bought one for two hundred dollars and shipped it to Waterloo on a truck. That had been forty years ago, the wheeled conveyance of a two-story, triangular cabin into the duck flats causing such a stir that Peter Martin's name had lingered with the structure long after he'd grown too old to visit it. A club of eight dues-paying members now maintained the grounds, men in their seventies like Mercury and a few younger, satellite members sprinkled in with an eye toward the future. The older men had hunted all their lives, and for them the care and upkeep of some drafty, mouse-infected hunting lodge between the months of November and January were a ritual of unquestioned propriety. Their young manhoods had been formed in such environs, and in the fall they returned achingly to the bachelor bunks, the liquor and gun oil, and the taut gray winter skies to steal back some portion of what was gone. The cabin, decorated with antlers and bartending signs and plat-book maps, its bathroom cabinet stocked with an ancient bottle of hair tonic, seemed to them over time a place of classical permanence, not prefabricated in the least.Stan thought about this as he stood on the Waterloo boat landing and watched the sheriff, knees shaking for balance, examine the corpse laid out in his narrow skiff. He had enjoyed a relatively private summer with Booker that first year, teaching the boy-again without Booker's asking or showing any sense of debt-how to run a trot line and handle the river from that same skiff, how to shoot squirrels, even drinking with him solemnly in the evenings, missing his regular shows at home; but the first day of the season had changed all that. This date had worried Mercury like little else Stan had ever seen. It had lain behind his desire for Booker to fix up the shack, and his decision to drive out every other week to volunteer his busy and bumbling aid. Stan had been present one day in mid-October, the three of them digging the shack a "water-saving" latrine, when Mercury leaned on his shovel and said, "In two weeks, Booker, the members who run this club are going to start showing up. They know you're living here, and the deal is, you work for all of them, not just for me."Booker, slight and shirtless as usual, continued to dig."Hell and damn," Mercury said. Beneath the old man's sternum, Stan could hear the dyspepsia start to work. "I don't mean you work for me, but that's the way we've got to play it. Hell and damn. Don't get touchy with me on this, Booker; it isn't like your grandfather wrote ahead and told me I needed a hunting cabin all my own. You got any other family I'm gonna have to put up?"Booker had stepped into the hole by now, standing nearly to his waist in the black soil, and he spoke without varying his stroke: "My grandfather knew what kind of shack this is.""What's that?" cried Mercury. "I'd be damned interested-""Why, this here's a nigger shack, Mr. Chapman," Booker said, his voice curling with the bogus tones of the South. "A li'l ol' sharecropper's kind of place.""Hell and damn!" Mercury was digging now, too, a furious paddling motion along the edges of the hole that did no more than slough dirt back in. "Son, we've had a tabernacle choir's worth of sorry humanity pass through this shack, with a whole helluva lot less promising bloodlines than you, and every last one of them white. It wasn't a matter of what their skin-""So that's what you do in the country," Booker said, coolly now, hardly moving his lips. "If there aren't any regular niggers around, you get them from your own kind.""We never got them from anywhere." Stan watched the old man's high, patrician face blanch beneath his hat. He ain't seen this good an argument in years, Stan thought with admiration. Might have got hisself out of shape. "Never got them from anywhere," Mercury repeated, "but what they came looking for a place. Free to go, free to stay, free to do the work that's offered. You can piss on those that give the work, but it's not ever going to change."The two men shoveled for a while, Booker patiently clearing out the dirt that Mercury knocked back in. Then Booker stopped and leaned on his shovel haft. "You vote Republican, Mr. Chapman?" he asked."I vote my interest at the box.""And the residents of this here shack?""I don't like this arrangement any more than you," Mercury said. "But instead of arguing fucking politics when those old boys get down here, just try being quiet for a change."The members convened the afternoon before opening day, thickset and hale old men with their canvas jackets and their calls packed in the same leather bags they had been left in on closing day the year before, their guns the same cheap and well-made fowling pieces they had purchased as young men, oiled and stored in inexpensive sheepskin sleeves. None was anything less than a millionaire, and they took a private, languid pleasure in every possible concealment of this fact, arriving in Buick station wagons and Oldsmobile sedans that younger, less established Kansas City men would consider fitting only for their wives. They sipped discount bourbon from plastic cups and, when they stopped at the local gun shop in Waterloo, inquired intelligently after the clerk's kin. All subscribed to the Waterloo Free Press and read it with more sentimentality than contempt. The country to them was a necessary source of stasis, a permanency that they preferred to see no one add to or subtract from, and so it was really only a matter of keeping Booker out of sight and giving them the chance to realize that nothing would change by having him there. With some embarrassment, Mercury had sent Booker to the shack at noon, and by three o'clock the lot was double-parked with cars, their doors propped open for the broadcast of the Kansas-Nebraska game. Stan found himself holding a paper cup of raw whiskey that made his throat expand, then contract. He could see, down the faded path, the pines that hid Booker's shack, and sensed among the men-Podge McGee and Hugh Singleman, busy driving stakes for the skeet machine, as well as Mercury-an uneasiness. They avoided looking that way.Podge McGee's ancestors had run the first tavern in Kansas City, and he had continued in their taste for irregularity, never having a job, exactly, but trading in land, development rights, restaurant equipment, car parts, brass pipe, landfill, sand-anything of transient brightness and high yield. Skin cancer had gotten him twenty years back (Podge farmed his own ancestral lands south of town and had spent too many summers in open tractors). His nose had been excised, and what they had put back did not resemble a nose at all but putty spackled unevenly around two blowholes in the center of his face. With his yellow eyes blazing over this appendage, he looked like some terrible, scavenging bird. Hugh Singleman was senior vice president at Woolcombe & Lee, a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than Podge, whom he'd followed around since grade school commenting on the sprier man's profligate ways. In the kitchen, Edwin Coole fixed a steak marinade. He was president of Alderman, Hadley Insurance and an artist manqué whose hand-lettered signs dotted the property and whose watercolors of old Pete Martin's A-frame hung in each man's home. He was dying of prostate cancer, unbeknownst to his fellow members, but that didn't bother him so much as the fact that Mercury, his best friend, hadn't taken him into his confidence on the subject of Booker Short.In fact, the men seemed incapable of commenting on Booker Short or anything else. They believed in the power of the final word, and so no one wanted to utter the first, a situation Mercury encouraged contentedly, his chatter diverting their attention as softly as canvas baffles on a stream: "Say, Eddie boy, you and I got to talk about this electricity problem. I think it's worth us getting wired in, rid of this dangerous gas and such, but I want to hear your ideas first-privately, see."At four, Remy Westbrook arrived in his Oldsmobile coupe. In the name of Westbrook Lumber, Remy's ancestors had felled entire forests across the state, and their legacy was the closest thing to actual royalty that the city possessed. Remy, a hump-shouldered man with boiled-looking jowls and neck, knew this, and he estimated its worth by the niceties it allowed him to forget. "You all been out?" he asked, stepping from the car."Not yet today," Mercury said."Ah." Sighting through black bifocals, Remy unbuttoned his pants, rested one elbow on the car roof, and peed luxuriantly in the dead grass. "Heard Mercury's brought in a Negro fella, gonna put you out of business, Stan."Hugh Singleman's stake driving stopped, and Stan felt the men listening around the yard. "I don't mind," he said.Remy raised his eyebrows. "I would," he said. "But I ain't you. I wonder if it's too much trouble for a fella like that to come up and say hi....""You better put that up, Remy," Hugh Singleman said."What? What's that?" But then Remy-and Stan with him-followed Hugh's line of vision to the tangerine English sports car idling up the drive and Clarissa Sayers's face squinted against the white dust, leaning eagerly out the passenger side.—Reprinted from The Huntsman by Whitney Terrell by permission of Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Whitney Terrell. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTIONKansas City, Missouri, has always been a city geographically divided by the Missouri River, and—underneath the surface—by class and race. At its founding, Kansas City was part of the South; it was legal to keep slaves within the city and in surrounding areas. Though slavery was abolished in the United States long ago, the city's landscape still echoes that time. In The Huntsman, Whitney Terrell evokes the city's painful past and uneasy present, minutely inspecting this phenomenon of blacks and whites living apart in specific communities "against all plan or reason after the laws that kept them apart were abolished."The ruling class consists of the wealthy, old-money families who have fond memories of a time before the civil rights movement. But these men and women also still hold the keys to power and prestige in the present-day city, throwing a lavish Founders' Ball each year to which only those who are white are invited. Even the city's black mayor accepts his token invitation but knows well enough to respectfully decline. This is the city where a rail-thin, African-American, ex-con parole-jumper by the name of Booker Short looks for a place to lay low. As he steps off of the train outside of the city and begins the long walk into town, he can never begin to predict the trouble that will find him.In fact, trouble arrives one morning in the form of a dead girl found in the Missouri River—not in itself such a strange occurrence; often while fishing in the Missouri people catch much more than catfish. But this body is special because it is Clarissa Sayers, the judge's daughter. When Stan Granger pulls the body out of the swirling current, his thoughts immediately turn to Booker, who had been hired by Stan's own employer, Mercury Chapman—a well-regarded manufacturer and life-long resident of Kansas City. Stan remembers the beginning of his and Booker's tenuous friendship, when Booker met Clarissa and began his ascent into the cloistered circle of wealth and power that forms the center of Kansas City social life. Neither her Stingray convertible, nor the tailored suits in which she dressed Booker, nor the invitations to parties that she accepted for the both of them could hide one stark fact—he did not belong. But Booker had a secret, a debt that had been passed from one generation to the next, that existed before he was born. It is the thing that brought him from his grandfather's farm in Oklahoma, through a stint in jail, and over miles of railroad tracks to Mercury Chapman's front door. This secret is what will vindicate him, even after Clarissa is found dead and Booker himself is named as the prime suspect.Much of the driving force behind The Huntsman is not what the reader knows about the characters, but rather what the characters know about each other, and what they try to hide about themselves. Everyone is an enigma, and everyone has information that another does not want him to hold. Booker is not the only example. Clarissa is keeping many things from Booker, most importantly why she and her father have a bond so fragile, but at the same time so apparently unbreakable, that he occupies nearly every one of her actions and words and threatens to drive her insane. Booker's employer, Mercury Chapman, has his own skeleton in the closet, a revelation that has tied Booker and his family to him for the rest of his life. Most startling of all is the secret that Judge Sayers is retaining, a secret so terrible that it will tear his life apart.The Huntsman weaves an intricate tale of how the past can dictate the future, be it the way a city nearly 200 years old can still maintain that exclusion does not exist, despite the fact that people of different races do not intermingle, or the way a man's actions can echo in his head throughout his life, no matter what he does to quiet them. Booker Short is the crucial catalyst, a man whose refusal to accept the status quo will polarize an entire community and lead the fine citizens of Kansas City to return to their own secrets—their only hope for redemption.ABOUT WHITNEY TERRELLWhitney Terrell was born and raised in Kansas City. He is a graduate of Princeton University and has an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He lives in Kansas City, where he is a writer-in-residence for the School of Professional Studies at Rockhurst University. The Huntsman is his first novel.A CONVERSATION WITH WHITNEY TERRELLYour writing style in The Huntsman has been compared to that of Faulkner and Melville. Do you consider those two authors major influences on your work? Who else would you count among your influences? As a teacher, what writers do you recommend to your students for inspiration, or to learn the craft of writing?I think as an author you ought to feel terrified by such a comparison—as well as flattered. People often seem to reserve the term "Faulkneresque" for writers who use long sentences, or set scenes in the country, but to me he was much more of an urban author than people think. It sounds comic to call him that, I know. But in all of his work, you find a constantly evolving analysis of how societies, and towns, and cities get created, how their social orders are built and enforced—or corrupted—over generations. It's a passion he picked up from Balzac, who was grounded in urban life, and I hope to look at Kansas City in the same way.Melville produced some great and troubling works on America's racial obsessions, particularly the story "Benito Cereno," a line from which forms the epigraph to Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man—another book I've spent a lot of time with. You look for those kinds of connections, webs of common ideas. And if you're white and writing about race relations (as I am), you must read, learn, and respect the black authors out there leading the way: James Alan McPherson, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, John Edgar Wideman, Stanley Crouch, Reginald McKnight, Colson Whitehead, just to name a few. As for students, I simply tell them to read everything, all the time. If you are engaged every day in the act of reading, of going to the library or the bookstore, and standing in the stacks and just looking at the spines, trying to guess where to go next, your instincts will eventually lead you the right way.Critics have had difficulty classifying The Huntsman. Would you say that the novel is literary fiction, or a particularly well-written mystery, or both? When you set out to write the book, what type of work were you striving for?Quite frankly, the mystery tag came as a complete surprise and really only showed up in a few early reviews. From day one I imagined this as what is now called a "literary novel"—which, in the English classes of my youth, was the only kind of novel that existed. Many of the writers we read back then use what would now be called elements of "crime fiction." However, I wouldn't call To Kill a Mockingbird or Crime and Punishment mystery novels, though they both involve murder investigations. The same goes for Faulkner's Light in August, or Nabokov's Lolita, or Richard Wright's Native Son.The Huntsman differs from a typical mystery because the murder exists only as a device. The point isn't to guess who did it—most readers will do that fairly quickly. What matters is the community's reaction to this violent act and how it serves to bring to the fore the buried prejudices of the city's residents. In the end, the crime feels far less important than, say, the relationship between Booker and his grandfather, or Mercury Chapman's memories of his WWII past. That said, the book does have a plot and it does move—at least that was my intention. And the reviewers and booksellers who have covered this book as a mystery have done so with great enthusiasm and I'm thankful for that. Once a reader cracks the cover, categories disappear.Some might find your depiction of Kansas City not terribly flattering. As it is your hometown and the place where you currently reside, how do you feel about the obvious prejudice and exclusion that plague the city? Did the racial climate in Kansas City change at all while you were writing the book? If so, did it change your treatment of the subject matter?I think that many of our major cities—and Kansas City is really just a template for this problem—face a new form of segregation. The old battles over legalized segregation are over and won. The Jim Crow laws are a generation in the past. But many cities are still strongly divided according to race. Look at Cincinnati, Miami, or Boston. Look at L.A. in 1992. Racial division damages cities and everyone who lives in them. It hurts downtown areas, where people are forced to mix. It leads to the growth of racially segregated suburbs. It kills school districts. Fortunately, people are starting to acknowledge the problem, at least in this city. The television and radio stations will discuss it; the Kansas City Star just ran a long feature on urban planning that focused on issues of race, and local reviewers have generously covered this book. Most importantly, many individual citizens, the library groups, the reading clubs, the neighborhood and church organizations, have been working silently, with no fanfare, on issues like this for years. These people are the best hope.Talk about the character of Booker Short, the main black voice in the book. As a white author, how did you come to imagine this character's life? Did you approach writing about him differently than you would a white character? Did you encounter any resistance from readers—black or white—who think you're not qualified to write about the black experience?The last question goes to the heart of what it means to be a writer. Writing is about empathy—imagining yourself in another's place. I think we all agree that young writers should not be scolded for writing about old people, that female writers can write about men, or that twentieth-century authors can set stories in the 1860s. So why should we, as Americans, limit our imaginations according to race? We need more imagination in that area, not less. There are also practical concerns. In a city populated by races x, y, and z, wouldn't any writer have to write outside of his racial group to get the whole picture? That's whyThe Huntsman contains both black and white points of view. It would be offensive, at this point in the city's history, not to include both—and yet, such a division has been traditional, even in writers that I greatly admire. In Huck Finn, you never get Jim's thoughts. His point of view remains outside the realm of knowledge. The same thing applies to the white characters in, say, Richard Wright. My goal in The Huntsman was to let both sides speak and allow readers to judge on their own whom they believe.To be honest, I worried more about being able to clearly imagine the specifics of where Booker grew up, his surroundings, the things he did every day, his chores, etc., than I worried about imagining "another race." I make the assumption that every character is of the human race. They experience love, bitterness, betrayal, friendship, much in the ways that I have experienced them, or in ways that I've seen others experience them. The causes may differ and the careful writer will be aware of that—as a black student in a rural white district, race plays a far greater role in Booker's daily life than it did in mine, and I worked hard to take that into account. But the betrayal that Booker feels when his best friend abandons him should be accessible to any reader from any background. And I think the best writing tries always to see past the skin of things to that universal place.In your novel, Booker Short suggests that Mercury Chapman should feel responsible for the hanging death of one of his soldiers during the war. Mercury claims that he did everything possible to prevent that death, short of resigning his commission and going to jail himself. Who is right? Who do you think readers tend to side with?Hopefully, readers won't easily be able to declare someone "right." If Mercury is simply a monster, for instance, then the book loses its immediacy. White readers in particular can disassociate themselves from him by saying, "Oh, I'm not like that." But the fact that he is in many ways sympathetic, a character with conscience, makes his experience more significant. He doesn't hurt or purposefully injure the black community; he pays wages to black workers at his factory. He did try to help Reggie Hammonds. But does he treat Booker as he would the grandson of a white friend? How does he justify his continuing membership in the all-white Colonial Country Club? Or omitting the truth about Hammonds from his war stories? I hope he forces readers to think about how Booker's statement, "If you're part of something wrong, you're wrong," might apply to them.As for Booker, responses vary widely. Some readers root for him. Some view him as undeserving of the claim he makes on Mercury. One African American reader said to me, "No young Kansas City boy would trust white people like Booker does." I have to hope that she isn't completely right (though Booker doesn't actually come from Kansas City). But I would also point out that Booker's role in the novel is precisely that: he defies the status quo. He refuses to be satisfied. Everyone else in the novel seems paralyzed by their past. But Booker has the drive and the curiosity to come to Kansas City, find the white man his grandfather so often talked about, and finally, after so many years, hash out what really happened. This to me is the novel's most crucial act.That said, the book isn't supposed to be a moral guide or instruction manual—my goal was to set up the issues in a complex fashion and encourage people to argue over them, to realize there might be more than one point of view. I also have a request for readers who might use this guide: in the past year, I've spoken to both black and white book clubs, but almost no integrated ones. How integrated is your club? Why not make the effort to hold a joint discussion with a group of a different race?At the end of the novel, Judge Sayers actually gives the impression that he can easily get away with murder. Often, in this country, it appears that the justice system is skewed to protect "upstanding citizens," rather than uphold the spirit of justice and a fair trial. Do you believe that in this country wealth and social standing can essentially create a person who is above the law?Has this ever not been true?The distortion of memory is one of the driving themes of The Huntsman. As the Washington Post commented, "Terrell doesn't pretend to have the definitive answer as to why a yawning gulf continues to divide black and white Kansas Citians, but he does suggest that it endures because the two groups are inclined to remember the past differently." Can you comment on the role that memory plays in The Huntsman, especially in terms of Mercury Chapman's and Isaac Bentham's obviously divergent memories of World War II?Though they fought in the same company, and saw ostensibly the same events, Mercury and Isaac come away with two very different impressions of their war experiences in part because they never really honestly discuss them—or come to an agreement over what happened. To me, this serves as a model for what has happened in many American cities where you have black and white communities living in close physical proximity and yet never really discussing their own communal history. Black families in my neighborhood notice white flight. They notice that whites don't want their children to go to school with too many black children. They notice racial profiling, all-white country clubs, and gated communities. But I think far too many white residents here in Kansas City haven't the slightest idea what black residents think about these issues—or them.So the book is, in the end, about forcing this kind of conversation. Booker Short acts as the agent of change, bringing his grandfather's anger and bitterness (and in some cases, his misconceptions) back to Mercury, out of the past.The Huntsman is a fairly difficult novel in terms of addressing the issue of racial and societal rifts in the United States; yet, it is well-regarded and successful. Were you surprised that it was embraced as much as it was?This was my first book, so pretty much everything that happened came as a surprise. But I'm not surprised that a book addressing serious racial and societal rifts in American life can be successful. African American writers that I listed in Question 1 have been doing this for years, as have white writers like Russell Banks. These writers have had great success. In nearly every city I visited while doing readings for this book, people would pull me aside and say, "I just want you to know, we have the same problem here." This uneasy division and, in fact, curiosity about race—about the other—is an everyday fact of American life. And yet all too often our novels become what Banks calls "gated communities" populated by only one racial group. I think readers want more than that.The Huntsman was your first novel. Do you have a second in the wings? Do you plan to revisit Kansas City in that work?I intend to write a series of interlocking books set in Kansas City. In fact, if I can get away with writing about Kansas City for my entire life—if readers will keep reading the stuff and publishers will keep publishing it—I'll be a happy man. I want this to be my territory, my universe. I would like for different characters to reappear; I'd like to write about families over different generations. The next book, which I've already started, will be about corruption surrounding the building of the Interstate Highway here. Land rights are to Kansas City what water rights are to L.A. in Chinatown. The Interstate changed this city permanently—and not necessarily in good ways. I also think the '50s and '60s were a particularly wide-open time in the city's history.DISCUSSION QUESTIONSThe title of Whitney Terrell's novel is The Huntsman. Much of the book takes place at a hunting lodge, and many of the characters in the novel are hunters, both literally and figuratively. To whom do you think Terrell was referring when titling the work? The river seemed an uncomfortable reminder of a gothic past when life had not been so clean. In such a way do the residents of Kansas City cast the dirty and unpleasant aspects of their city into the past and strive to preserve a "clean" image of its present. Yet life in Kansas City is not clean, with the dead being dredged from the river's waters, barges rolling past housing projects, and the homeless living on the shoreline. How do you think the residents of this city reconcile the expansive wealth of a minority of the city's residents with the obvious destitution of the majority? On opening day at the hunting club, Clarissa Sayers is shocked to find that Mercury Chapman's new handyman, Booker Short, is not invited to eat with the members because he is black. In your opinion, is her attitude toward the prejudice of the hunters sincere—a product of her time at Vassar perhaps or is it just a reaction against the way she was brought up, a natural rebellion against her father and the society in which he moves? There is never any mention of Clarissa's feelings toward Booker in the novel, though we do know that Booker cares for Clarissa on some level. He appears to alternate between a kind of repulsion for her apparently charmed upbringing and an unquestionable need to be a part of the society she has always known. Does Booker love Clarissa for who she is, or is he drawn to what she can do for him as a privileged white woman? Conversely, does Clarissa truly want to be with Booker, or does she merely recognize him as a means to torment her father? What is the nature of Clarissa's relationship with her father? How does your view of it change from the start to the end of the novel? Booker's relationship with his grandfather is always strained and fearful. In fact, Booker claims to have hated him. Yet, he also had a certain respect for Isaac Bentham and his ability to overcome his race to become a war hero in a time when racial prejudice was absolutely acceptable. When Booker realizes that his grandfather exaggerated some of his war exploits and, in fact, may have allowed a friend to go to jail in his place, Booker is appalled, but still defends him. What is it about his relationship with his grandfather that, at the end of the novel, pulls Booker back—back to the past and to the house where he grew up? Mercury Chapman is described by Remy Westbrook as "a civil rights leader before they even had the word." Isaac Bentham explains to Booker that Mercury Chapman "cured me of a dangerous idea that a white man could be my friend." Explain the apparent contrast between these two statements. What are Mercury's feelings toward the prejudices of the city? Is he a part of the problem or the solution? Compare and contrast the friendship between Clyde Wilkenson and Mercury Chapman with that between Booker Short and Batson Putz. Take into consideration their upbringing, lifestyle, and general outlook. Are Booker and Mercury more similar than they initially appear? Marcy Keegan has a small but pivotal role in the novel. She acts not only as a love interest, but also as an outsider, someone who is not as influenced by the rigid class and race barriers present in Kansas City. Would the ending of the novel have been affected if her character had not been involved? How so? When Stan discovers Clarissa Sayers's body, he realizes that he is "already committed to telling that man a lie," referring to the sheriff. Though he immediately suspects Booker, he also feels an urgent need to protect him. What is Stan's allegiance to Booker? At any point in the novel do you feel that Stan would abandon Booker for his own gain? If so, what keeps him loyal to Booker? Each character in the work has a past that they wish to redeem. Mercury Chapman is the most obvious example. When he sacrifices himself so that Booker can escape Judge Sayers, is Mercury memorializing Reggie Hammonds, the innocent he did not try to save? Similarly, when Booker is hiding under the name Reggie Hammonds, is he attempting to play into Mercury's guilt? Finally, do you think that in his death Mercury found the forgiveness that he sought? What other characters seek redemption?

Editorial Reviews

"An exercise in literary prowess laced with long patches of history, simmering tensions and complex questions of betrayal and trust between and among races,  classes, and families." —Chicago Tribune"A masterful, surprising first novel, Faulknerian in its tone and structure, by a fine new storyteller." —Kirkus Reviews"A robust, dramatic tale.... Terrell employs the rich vocabulary of Melville, and writes long, muscular sentences reminiscent of Faulkner—but his style is powerfully his own." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution