BOOKS: When Southern Gothic Is Real Life

With the help of an established novelist, an unknown writer publishes a powerful memoir

Charleston, South Carolina, has always been a city of two tales -- one white, the other black, running parallel, sometimes clashing but seldom touching. That is one reason why Ruthie Bolton's Gal: A True Life (Harcourt Brace; 275 pages; $19.95) is such a remarkable book, for it is the result of an unlikely collaboration between two writers -- one black and unpublished, the other white and well established. Gal is also remarkable as that one-in-a-million unsolicited manuscript that actually gets published. But most impressive is the book itself.

The author of Gal is a 33-year-old former employee at a plant nursery...

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