The first American edition of the novel that has been praised as Phillips's most ambitious work
In most of his books Thomas Hal Phillips narrates family chronicles charged by human foibles and generational conflicts. In Kangaroo Hollow he is at his best.
Just as America enters World War I, Rufus Frost, a sharecropper in Kangaroo Hollow, marries Anna Shannon, a local aristocrat. On the night their first son is born, Rufus is with another woman, who later bears a child Rufus never acknowledges as his own. Rufus is drafted but survives the war. Returning to Kangaroo Hollow, he is elected sheriff but yields to corruption. Rex and Bayard, his and Anna's sons, mature and become bitter adversaries.
Such intricacies of plot and complexities of character led critics to see this novel as Phillips's most ambitious work. Because it was published in England in 1954 (W. Allen), it was not widely reviewed in the United States. In this new edition Kangaroo Hollow reaches out to a new generation of readers.
In praise of Kangaroo Hollow, the critic Louis Dollarhide wrote that Rufus is "a striking, full-bodied figure of a man . . . composed of the good and evil, the strength and weakness common to all mankind. . . . To avoid dependence on his wife, he turns
political opportunist. But the book is also the story of his sons -- of Rex, the glittering oldest son, who finally kills his chances in politics by taking an unpopular stand; of Bayard, musician and writer, who finds himself in his work; and of Dean, the illegitimate son whom Rufus can never own. His story, like that of Ishmael, runs like a melancholy counterpoint."
As in Phillips's other books, the locale is the north Mississippi hill country, whose terrains, like Faulkner's, are populated by characters struggling against small-town restrictions and against the barriers of class and race. Phillips's themes, like those of Greek tragedies, brim with hopes crushed by fate and human weaknesses.
Thomas Hal Phillips, a prize-winning novelist who has achieved success as
a screenwriter working with Robert Altman on several acclaimed films, lives in Kossuth, Mississippi. In 1998 the University Press of Mississippi reprinted his The Loved and the Unloved (A Banner Book). His other novels include The Bitterweed Path (1950), The Golden Lie (1951), and Search for a Hero (1952).