Michael Malone

2002 SeasonMalone

Michael Malone is the author of nine novels and two works of nonfiction. Educated at Carolina and at Harvard, he has taught at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Swarthmore. Among his prizes are the Edgar, the O. Henry, the Writers Guild Award, and the Emmy. He lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina, with his wife, chair of the English department at Duke University.


Uncivil Seasons (1983)
Handling Sin (1986)
Time's Witness (1989)
Dingley Falls Foolscap (1993)
The Delectable Mountains
The Last Noel First Lady (2001)
Red Clay, Blue Cadillac: Stories of Twelve Southern Women (2002)


From Red Clay, Blue Cadillac published in 2002 by Sourcebooks Landmark
Excerpt from "Red Clay: Stella"

Up on its short slope, the columned front of our courthouse was waxy in the August sun, like a courthouse in lake water. The leaves hung from maples, and the flag of North Carolina wilted flat against its metal pole. Heat sat sodden over the county week by relentless week; they called the weather "dog days" after the star, Sirius, but none of us knew that. We thought they meant no dog would leave shade for the street on such days-no dog except a mad one. I was ten that late August in 1959; I remembered the summer because of the long heat wave, and because of Stella Doyle.

We waited a long time. When finally they pushed open the doors, the policemen and lawyers hurrying out of them flung their arms up to their faces to block the sun and stopped there in the doorway as if the hot light were shoving them back inside. Stella Doyle came out last, a deputy on either side to walk her down to where the patrol car, orange as Halloween candles, waited to take her away until the jury could make up its mind about what had happened two months earlier out at Red Hills. It was the only house in the county big enough to have a name. It was where Stella Doyle had, maybe, shot her husband Hugh Doyle to death.

Excitement over Doyle's murder had swarmed through the town and stung us alive. No thrill would replace it until the assassination of John Kennedy. Outside the courthouse, sidewalk heat steaming up through our shoes, we stood impatiently waiting to hear Mrs. Doyle found guilty. The news stood waiting too, for she was, after all, not merely the murderer of the wealthiest man we knew; she was Stella Doyle. She was the movie star.

Papa's hand squeezed down on my shoulder and there was a tight line to his mouth as he pulled me into the crowd and said, "Listen now, Buddy, if anybody ever asks you when you're grown, 'Did you ever see the most beautiful woman God made in your lifetime?' Son, you say, 'Yes, I had that luck and her name was Stella Dora Doyle.'" His voice got louder, right there in the crowd for everybody to hear. "You tell them how her beauty was so bright it burned back the shame they tried to heap on her head, burned it right on back to scorch their faces."

Papa spoke these strange words in a strange loud voice, looking up the steps at the woman in black that the deputies were holding. Papa's arms were folded over his seersucker vest, his fingers tight on the sleeves of his shirt. People around us had turned to stare and somebody snickered.

Embarrassed for him, I whispered, "Oh Papa, she's nothing but an old murderer. Everybody knows how she got drunk and killed Mr. Doyle. She shot him right through the head with a gun."

Papa frowned. "You don't know that."

I kept on. "Everybody says she was so bad and drunk all the time, she wouldn't let his folks even live in their own house with her. She made him throw out his mama and papa."

My father shook his head at me. "I don't like to hear ugly gossip coming out of your mouth, all right, Buddy?"

"Yes, sir."

"She didn't kill Hugh Doyle."

"Yes, sir."

His frown scared me; it was so rare. I stepped closer and took his hand, took his stand against the rest. I had no loyalty to this woman Papa thought so beautiful. I just could never bear to be cut loose from the safety of his good opinion. I suppose from that moment on, I felt toward Stella Doyle something of what my father felt, though in the end perhaps she meant less to me, and stood for more. Papa never had my habit of symbolizing.…