Ringside 1925 by Jen Bryant.
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2008.

Ringside 1925 is written in verse from nine different perspectives of the town of Dayton, TN, during the Scopes Trial in 1925. All but two of the speakers (a visiting minister and a reporter) are residents of the town. I particularly like the viewpoints of the three students from the high school. The two boys are best friends who have a difference of opinion regarding the case. Peter wants to study geology. Jimmy is influenced by his mother who is concerned about morality. All three students are working through the trial. The boys at a drug store and Marybeth at a boardinghouse. It's the first time she has been allowed to work. She's excited about the bustle of the customers, and she is hoping to find something for herself in life beyond their town. Her older cousin, who manages the boardinghouse, is encouraging her.

Upon reading the novel, I wasn't totally clueless about the events, since I had already seen the Spencer Tracy movie Inherit the Wind. I was struck by how much the novel resembled the movie, and in fact, I believe both made an effort to be true to the facts of, not just the case, but also town happenings. One thing that stood out that I didn't notice in the movie (which at that point was totally centered on Darrow and Bryan) was that the jury was in the courtroom for very little of the trial. I would not have thought it would be legal to continue a trial without the jury in the room! Both the novel and the movie make it clear that the case was being tried with the intent of drawing people/customers to their less than prosperous town.

The book is very short and fast paced. It isn't just flowing; it's hopping. I like the different viewpoints, many more than you usually see in a novel. I think Bryant has done an excellent job of providing a comprehensive depiction, and the story is as much about the times and small town life as it is about the specific place. I am impressed by the number of personal details Bryant included in the story.

related-John T. Scopes trial, litigation, studying and teaching evolution, Charles Darwin, Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan, law and legislation, Tennessee history, 20th century, community life, novels in verse

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