A Cry of Angels

A Novel by Jeff Fields
Foreword by Terry Kay

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About the book

It is the mid-1950s in Quarrytown, Georgia. In the slum known as the Ape Yard, hope’s last refuge is a boardinghouse where a handful of residents dream of a better life. Earl Whitaker, who is white, and Tio Grant, who is black, are both teenagers, both orphans, and best friends. In the same house live two of the most important adults in the boys’ lives: Em Jojohn, the gigantic Lumbee Indian handyman, is notorious for his binges, his rat-catching prowess, and his mysterious departures from town. Jayell Crooms, a gifted but rebellious architect, is stuck in a loveless marriage to a conventional woman intent on climbing the social ladder.

Crooms’s vision of a new Ape Yard, rebuilt by its own residents, unites the four-and puts them on a collision course with Doc Bobo, a smalltown Machiavelli who rules the community like a feudal lord. Jeff Fields’s exuberantly defined characters and his firmly rooted sense of place have earned A Cry of Angels an intensely loyal following. Its republication, more than three decades since it first appeared, is cause for celebration.

About the author

Jeff Fields was born in Georgia and attended high school in Elberton, which inspired the fictional setting for A Cry of Angels. He currently lives in Atlanta. After working for many years in television and radio, Fields now writes full-time.

For discussion

  1. What is the real relationship between Em Jojohn and Earl? Why does Em keep coming back to Quarrytown after his long trips on the road? Does he want to come back? Is Em Jojohn Earl’s protector? Does he want to be? What is Earl learning from Em Jojohn?
  3. Em is described as a Lumbee Indian. Is there such a tribe? If so, where are they located?
  5. After his legal guardian, Miss Esther, has left and Earl runs away and comes back to Quarrytown, is it feasible that a 14-year old boy could move into a garage loft and make his own way in the world and be left alone by the local authorities and social agencies? If so, why?
  7. What is being said about our society with Miss Esther and the old people in the boardinghouse? What is said about human nature when the elderly boarders are suddenly without Miss Esther?
  9. Jayell’s strength is his talent as an architect. What are his weaknesses, especially with regard to personal relationships? Is he a leader or too easily led? Is his dream of building houses in the Ape Yard altruism, or is he exploring new housing designs, or both? When he teaches the black boys in his shop, what are his motives? When he wants Carlos, a black man, for his best man at his wedding, what is said about how he goes about having his way?
  11. The author has said that Doc Bobo was based on a real person. Can you think of any despotic leaders of small, third-world countries who fit the Doc Bobo model?
  13. The story illustrates a number of societal changes that were taking place in our country and in the South in the early 1950’s. What were some of them?
  15. With regard to Mr. Teague and Tio’s efforts to keep Teague’s grocery store alive against the giant supermarket chain, is there value in small, mom and pop businesses in a community? Does their struggle resonate with any such conflict going on today? What is the true relationship between Mr. Teague and Tio?
  17. Do you think Clyde Fay, Doc Bobo’s deadly bodyguard, was envisioned as essentially masculine or feminine in nature? Does his name offer any hints?
  19. When Doc Bobo is thrown in the rock quarry and is swimming around scratching at the walls trying to get out, where and how is that scene foreshadowed earlier in the book?
  21. After his climactic battle with Clyde Fay and the dog boys, does Em Jojohn live or die? Do you think Earl will meet up with him again? Where is Earl going when he leaves Quarrytown?