A Glooming Peace This Morning
By Allen Mendenhall
Livingston Press: 2023
Paper, $18.95
Reviewed by Lynn Lamere

A Glooming Peace This Morning book cover

Allen Mendenhall’s A Glooming Peace This Morning is a well-written coming-of-age story that gives glimpses of a small town’s moral code in the seventies. Mendenhall’s phrasing cadence lulls the reader into anticipating an innocent recounting of childhood events. However, within the story’s foreshadowing and telling title, the reader knows something sinister is lurking.

Set in the fictional town of Andalusia in Magnolia County, the community’s location, just thirty miles from a large city, adds to the story’s edgy mood. The protagonist and narrator, nicknamed Cephus, the only child of a lawyer father and stay-at-home mother, follows the lead of Lump, a charming Huckleberry Finn type who hides his mischievous nature through preppy dress and impeccable manners. A fatherless Brett and neighbor Michael complete the tight-knit group that seems to have little parental supervision. Michael and Brett’s siblings play an integral role in the story’s plot. Brett’s thirteen-year-old sister, Sarah, is the epitome of the perfect Southern girl while Michael’s brother, Tommy, five years older than the other boys, has the cognitive abilities of a young child. Even at the story’s start, Mendenhall provides clues of a connection between the two.

Sarah, “a cultural touchstone, standing precariously for everything that was pure and good in Andalusia,” begins a relationship—an intimate one—with Tommy while she is suffering from a mysterious illness. Cephus and the others learn of the relationship and struggle with what to do with the knowledge.

More insights into the small town and its moral code are illustrated when a new family, the Finkelmans, move to Andalusia, just down the street from Cephus. All opinions about the new family are formed from afar. In the eyes of the boys and the town, the family is peculiar, with a Mexican maid, a sunbathing mother, and a father with questionable behavior. The Finkelmans do not last long in the judgmental small town, but they are not the only residents to not be welcomed. Newcomer Ray, a big kid with a single mother, poses a threat to Lump’s authority in the group of boys and never finds acceptance.

Other passages of small-town life shape Cephus. Cotillion classes, held every Tuesday and Thursday, are mandatory for the boys The classes culminate with the big dance as Cephus has the opportunity to experience the sensations of being near the opposite sex, another rite of passage into manhood.

As the story’s turning point, the intimate relationship of Sarah and Tommy is brought to trial as seemingly the entire town attends. The town’s innocence along with Tommy himself is openly discussed. Reminiscent of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, all life in the small town is halted as lawyers argue for or against the guilt of Tommy, the decision of his intent, and his age, as well as Sarah’s, at the time of their relationship.

Throughout the trial and following it, the town itself resonates as a character in this moving story. The verdict’s aftermath shapes the lives of Tommy, Sarah, and the entire town. Mendenhall’s ending is satisfying, yet like the title, a glooming peace is given the reader.

Lynn Lamere is a composition instructor at Gulf Coast State College. She grew up in Andalusia, Alabama, and now resides in Miramar Beach, Florida.