Terrell is at home on lily-white golf courses as well as in his predominantly black neighborhood at 51st and Virginia, and he sees white flight from his neighborhood as tragic. "There's not something inherently threatening about someone of a different race," he says. But he also has "no gripes at all" with country club recreation, and he reflects fondly on time he spent at such places as a kid. "It was awesome," he says, beaming. His novel, like his experience, crosses such divisive lines with apparent ease.
"Kansas City is a metropolis so fractured by class and race that by the early nineties even childhood friends rarely cross the city's color line to speak," reads the book's dust jacket. The Huntsman has been described as "a search for accountability in an American community fractured by history and race." Delving into the novel, readers have no reason to expect the pivotal issues in the book to deal with anything beyond race. Still, the book is more complex than that.
The story begins when a fisherman drags a body out of the Missouri River in a small town an hour away from Kansas City. The discovery of a body in the river is not unusual; what's unusual is that the body is white. People in the town recognize the girl because she and her father, a prominent judge, had enjoyed hunting nearby. That's how they also know about her affair with Booker Short, a black man who is wanted by the authorities before he even knows that Clarissa is dead.
People who should know better than to accuse Booker find it easier to nod in agreement than to suspect that any of the white men at the city's nucleus -- who made up the majority of Clarissa's acquaintances -- might have been involved in her murder. For this reason, readers tend to consider Booker the victim of the novel, the lowest rung on the ladder of justice.
But someone else is also wronged by the hunting club's code of silence: The woman who dies because of it. When Clarissa's father had brought her to the hunting cabin during the off-season to be alone with her, nobody was supposed to notice the inappropriate father/daughter relationship. And so no one does -- out loud.
"Nobody's asked me about that," Terrell admits. "In the hunting club, Clarissa is isolated as Booker is isolated. That's how they become friends.
"There are a lot of examples of female exile," he adds, flipping through a mental Rolodex of his female characters and their respective situations. And while he didn't set out with an ax to grind on the matter of gender, he does allow that while reading some American literature dealing with race, he has often felt like saying, "Nice work, but can we do a little better with the chicks?"