Tracey D. Buchanan’s novel Toward the Corner of Mercy and Peace is a moving debut with an unforgettable protagonist.
Camille Pagán wrote of the book:
The story of a hilariously prickly writer who finds inspiration in her imagination (or is it?), Toward the Corner of Mercy and Peace is about finding the courage to carve your own path while you still have time. Tracey Buchanan is a welcome new voice in women’s fiction.
In my debut novel, Toward the Corner of Mercy and Peace, time is fluid for the main character, Mrs. Minerva Place. She lives in 1952, but the characters she researches and writes about live anywhere from 1758 to 1946. Minerva becomes so involved with these characters they come to life right there in her dining room, where she writes at her late parents’ cherry Duncan Phyfe dining table. She’s not sure if she’s imagining what she’s seeing or if they are actual ghosts. Either way, she’s concerned about her sanity.
Minerva is so well acquainted with the characters she writes about that she most certainly would know what the popular music of their day was. Any soundtrack to the book would have to include a wide range of tunes. To narrow it down, I selected the number one hits (when they were keeping track of such things) or popular songs from the year each character died.
Then, because such a soundtrack would have to include songs from Minerva’s “real” life, I chose a few from between 1913 (when Minerva was 13) and 1952.
- One of the primary “ghosts” Minerva encounters is Emma Skillian, who died in a flood January 24, 1937. The number one song during that month was Pennies From Heaven composed by Arthur Johnston with lyrics by Johnny Burke, sung by Bing Crosby or It’s De-Lovely composed by Cole Porter, sung by Eddy Duchin. But the song that best sets the mood for this character would be Hellhound on My Trail. It’s by Robert Johnson and was the number 26 song of that year. With sorrowful, bluesy simplicity, it captures the sadness that followed the character of Emma Skillian.
- One of the first characters we meet through Minerva is Margaretha Stuck Retter, who lived from 1819-1845. She was an immigrant who married a man in Paducah, Ky., after her family relocated from Germany. She might have had Komm, Schöpfer Geist, kehr bei uns ein (Come, Creator Spirit, visit us) played at her wedding. It is a Christian hymn in German for Pentecost. The text is a paraphrase of the Latin hymn Veni Creator Spiritus by Heinrich Bone. The melody is an adaptation of the Latin hymn’s plainchant. It was first published in 1845.
- Della Barnes, who died suspiciously in June 1897 while she was engaged might have been listening to “Break The News To Mother,” a tune composed and written by Charles K. Harris. It was a war song first released in 1897 and was a popular song during the Spanish-American War. It was re-released during World War I.
- Major Charles Ewell was born September 29, 1758 and died May 10, 1830 and is buried on Peace Avenue in Oak Grove Cemetery in Paducah. This Revolutionary War hero didn’t have much to say to Minerva, but he might have sung I Know a Bank Where the Wild Thyme Blows. Richard Ewer composed the music for lyrics taken from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
- John Wilson Barkley, Vice President Alben Barkley’s father, passed on to his great reward in 1932. He may have been listening to the top hit Night and Day by Fred Astaire and Leo Reisman. It was featured in the musical comedy Gay Divorce.
- Harry Smith Barkley was Vice President Barkley’s younger, and perhaps more unscrupulous, brother. He sang for the silent movies in western Kentucky, but he died young when he fell off a train enroute to a bar in Cairo, Il. Harry loved music and probably would have preferred You Ain’t Talkin to Me by Eddie Morton or Let Me Call You Sweetheart by Peerless Quartet to the very popular America the Beautiful by Louise Homer even if his brother was a famous politician.
- My protagonist is the only one of these characters that is pure fiction. Minerva listens to music on the radio in her living room in 1952, but some of her favorite songs are from different times in her life. In 1912-1915 Minerva had a best friend, Cat Gray, and they would have listened to the number one hit of 1913, When Irish Eyes are Smiling by Chauncy Olcott, 1914’s top By the Beautiful Sea by Heidelberg Quintet, and the number one hit of 1915, Hello Frisco by Olive Kline and Reinald Werrenrath.
- By 1922, Minerva was two years into her marriage and that year’s top song, My Man by Franny Brice probably played in the background while she cooked her husband’s favorite meal, beef roast and potatoes.
- One of Paducah’s most famous residents was the humorist and prolific author Irvin Cobb, who died in 1944. Minerva didn’t know him, but of course she had read one of his 66 books (she didn’t think it was that funny). Swinging on a Star by Bing Crosby was the number one hit of 1944.
- When Minerva turned 50, she loved the smooth, elegant, and romantic Mona Lisa by Nat King Cole. It was written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston for the Paramount Pictures film Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1949). The line “Is it only ‘cause you’re lonely they have blamed you?” would have struck Minerva’s heart since she was just that—lonely and accused.
- And, during 1952, when Minerva’s life arguably takes the biggest turn of all, she would have listed You Belong to Me, the version sung by Jo Stafford, as one of her favorite songs. The opening line, “See the pyramids along the Nile,” might have intrigued Minerva, but she never would have dreamed of traveling until a young single father and his son entered her life.
Finally, since Minerva was a church organist and piano teacher, no soundtrack of her life would be complete without one of her favorite hymns, the stalwart Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee served her well when she pounded it out on the magnificent organ of the First Baptist Church of Paducah.
Tracey Buchanan is an award-winning journalist and has worked as a magazine editor and freelance writer for over thirty years. She’s now happily planted in the world of fiction with her debut novel, Toward the Corner of Mercy and Peace. She and her husband Kent live in the UNESCO Creative City of Paducah, Ky. They have two married sons, seven shockingly perfect grandchildren, and one very mixed-up dog. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Instagram, and GoodReads.