The recent flurry of concern about Harper Lee’s newly discovered prequel to/early version of To Kill a Mockingbird reminded me of a book I’d read and loved a few years ago. Elizabeth Spencer is better known for A Light in the Piazza, which was made into a movie and more recently a Broadway play. But her Voice at the Back Door is, in a very true sense, the book that came before To Kill A Mockingbird.
Published in 1956, Voice at the Back Door addresses the burdens of racial divisions in a Mississippi hill county. It is beautifully written with evocative descriptions and characters you care about. A review in The New Yorker called it a “practically perfect novel.”
Beyond that, this book is an example of authorial courage. Ms. Spencer, who lived in Mississippi, was reviled after the publication and moved to Italy. Eventually, she moved back to the US but never back home. The Voice at the Back Door is in my “permanent collection.” I lend it out and if it’s not returned, I buy another. If you haven’t read it, I hope you’ll find a copy soon.