BELOIT—Bill Mathis’s fifth novel features mystery, race, death and a bit of stardust.
“Memory Tree,” a fictional family drama published by Rogue Phoenix Press LLP, is out and available in paperback and on Amazon. Author Mathis will be doing a virtual launch for the book via the Beloit Public Library’s Facebook page at 6:30 p.m. June 17.
Guests such as Beloit College Associate Professor of Health & Society and Political Science Ron Watson and author and owner of Beloit Healing Joanne Lenz-Mandt will be joining Mathis to share their impressions of his latest work.
Mathis’s new book deals with race, featuring a White man who falls in love with a Black woman and their mixed race children in the 1980s, although it hops back in time to the 1950s through the 1970s. The story is narrated by the man’s daughter, a 9-year-old girl who was murdered along with her twin brother and mother.
“Her stardust, or spirit, is waiting for her dad to return to the old house they lived in together, in hopes for her to find out why he never came to rescue them,” Mathis said.
The book also covers the father’s issues with race prior to the murder.
“The issues begin when the father is hesitant to be seen with them in public,” Mathis said. “He carries a lot of guilt and that leads into an antagonist who is also very prejudiced and violent and murders the mother and two kids and disappears.”
The father goes on to marry a White woman with whom he also has children. Toward the end of his life, when the father is dying of cancer, he longs to return to the old farmhouse he shared with his first set of children. A Black nurse cares for him and they learn how their histories overlap as they share their stories.
“The ‘stardust’ interjects or opens most chapters,” Mathis added.
By the end of the book, the mysteries are solved and all questions are answered.
“You find out why the murderer was never caught and how the stories of the nurse and father overlap in the family. There is hope to it, but it also points out the issues,” Mathis said.
Mathis said the book was challenging to write and prompted some self examination as he was wrapping up the book around the time of the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. His editor reviewed the book with an eye for diversity and representation, which led Mathis to rewrite some scenes and character reactions.
“I became a little less confident in myself, in what I thought I knew,” he said.
Mathis, who is retired, has proven prolific over the past couple of years, writing several novels: “Revenge is Necessary,” “Rooming House Gallery,” “Rooming House Diaries” and “Face Your Fears.”
Mathis’s previously published works with themes such as diversity and the American melting pot, family, LGBTQ+ experiences and disability, often through the lens of multiple characters with unique and distinct narratives.