J. Max McMurray

J. Max McMurray, 1908-1966

I just finished reading a charming novel called The Far Bayou by J. Max McMurray, who lived in Roanoke, Alabama and was a distant cousin of mine--by way of one of my great grandmothers on my father's side.

Published in 1951, it's a slice-of-life story set in the bayou country near Mobile in South Alabama, and weaves together the narratives of about a dozen very distinct characters in a small rural settlement over the course of about a year.

It's not the Southern Gothic you get from the likes of Erskine Caldwell and Flannery O'Connor with all their comically debased and deformed characters; Max likes his characters too much for that. It's more like Truman Capote, I suppose, in that sense. Very readable, and at times elegant.

I never met him, that I know of. But it's kinda cool to know I share a certain artistic bent with another old nut in the family tree. I would quite like to find out more about him, so I put out the word on Facebook, where I learned some more from another cousin of mine from that side of the family.

Goodreads has a bit on him. The writeup notes he was born in 1908 and died in 1966, and that his parents were William Harmon McMurray and Correna Eldorado Reaves. I learned that William was the brother of my great grandmother, and so Max was my grandmother's first cousin.

As far as I can tell, Max lived in his parents' house in the 1950s on Chestnut Street in Roanoke. And I am led to believe that that's the house where my mother stayed for a while when she was first married and my older brother was an infant. So that would have made them housemates, and would account for how my parents got their author-inscribed copy of The Far Bayou.

The funny part is that, according to the Goodreads entry, The Far Bayou is collected nowadays because the dust jacket was the work of some famous book designer in New York--and my copy no longer has the dust jacket.

Max supposedly worked on, but never published, a second novel. It would be VERY COOL to find that manuscript. I'd also like to find out who owns the copyright of The Far Bayou now, as I would like to publish the book. As I understand it, the copyright belongs to the author and his heirs for 70 years after his death, but it seems that Max had no children, and the company that published the book, Rinehart, is basically out of existence.

Here's the Goodreads link. You can see a picture of the famous cover there.


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