Hush Now, Don’t Explain, by Dennis Must
Hush Now, Don’t Explain (300 pages) is a work of literary fiction by Dennis Must. A white orphan and two mixed race friends set out from Ohio on a trip to New Orleans, in search of their roots and their destinies.
Hush Now has earned Dennis the 2014 Dactyl Foundation Award for literary fiction. Read more. It also won an Honorable Mention in the Eric Hoffer Awards and was a finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards.
“Steeped in the strains of postwar jazz and the lonely sound of train whistles in the night, this is a gritty, evocative novel of identity, race, and a particularly American kind of yearning.”
—The Library Journal
“Author Must has penned far more than a coming of age story. He has created a circle of life mystery that encompasses not only the devastating effects of racism, but also the life affirming values of kindness and friendship. This tale of shared humanity will be recalled warmly long after the last page has been turned.”
—Joe Kilgore for the U.S. Review of Books
“Hush Now, Don’t Explain is an extraordinary book. Jazz devotee Dennis Must creates an incredibly rich, original, sensual world that reads like a combination of Walt Whitman, jazz improvisation, and the wail of locomotives in the night. The coming of age story of a young woman named Honor, an orphan searching for her roots, and a biracial, fatherless boy named Billy trying to find his tune, Hush Now, Don’t Explain fuses the themes of identity, parentage, sexuality, race, and longing into a haunting refrain that lingers on, long after the last page is turned.”
—Paulette Alden, author of The Answer to Your Question, Feeding the Eagles, and Crossing the Moon.
Honor, an orphan, finds her way to the Victorian boarding house where she thinks her mother might have birthed her. World War II has just ended, which alerted many Americans to the world beyond, but Honor and Billy’s lives are limited to the dead-end town of DeForest Junction, Ohio, and its nearby notcherie, where exotic wemen sell their bodies to the rail men. Alongside her mixed-race “cousin” Billy, Honor grows to womanhood, cared for by Miss Alsada and enchanted by the colorful stories of the shanty store owner, Mr. Augustus Willard, who claims to have traveled far and wide.
One day, an itinerant blues musician shows up at the boardinghouse, electrifying Billy with his skill at the upright piano. He departs just as quickly, leaving behind hints that he might be Billy’s father. Soon after Buster Stanley’s departure, men in white hoods burn a cross in the field behind the boardinghouse and torch a number of shacks occupied by black families. Honor and Billy decide to leave DeForest Junction—a feat they accomplish with the help of Mr. Willard, whose shanty store was burned. With Honor disguised as a boy for safety’s sake, the three friends ride the rails southward, their ultimate destination: New Orleans. Billy is on the trail of Buster Stanley, but Honor is on an intense quest for Honor. How will she escape that fate of those wemen, waiting for a man to fill up the void in her life?
Says Must, “Honor’s story is inspired by my own. As a young boy I spent summers in a boarding house at a railroad junction on the outskirts of town in Ohio. It was run by a distant aunt who had three daughters similar in age to me. The ‘cousins’ and I, seldom interacting with any adults, passed care-free days, fishing for sunnies, smoking, and inventing stories often inspired by the forlorn cry of locomotives transporting passengers to places we could only imagine. Then, from our attic bed one August midnight we witnessed fiery crosses illuminate a field across the road as angry figures in white sheets and conical hats gathered in a circle. It was the night our childhood perished.”
Dennis Must is the author of two short story collections: Oh, Don’t Ask Why, Red Hen Press (2007), and Banjo Grease, Creative Arts Book Company, Berkeley, CA (2000). His first novel, The World’s Smallest Bible, was published by Red Hen Press in March of 2014. His plays have been performed Off Off Broadway, and his fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary reviews. Dennis and his wife Aviva live in Massachusetts. Click here to visit him online.
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