Max Peacock is a fictional character, but Dr. Niles Reddick understands him well.
In Reddick’s novel, “Lead Me Home,” Max and his high school sweetheart, Jaden, left their South Georgia hometown for the big city of Nashville, Tenn.
They have been away for many years and miss their families and rural roots. A family funeral and changes in the couple’s lives lead narrator Max to weigh a move back home.
Reddick understands his character’s dilemma. He’s been there himself.
A Valdosta native, Reddick is the son of Harold and Beverly Reddick. He graduated Lowndes High School in 1982. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Valdosta State before earning a master’s degree in psychology from the State University of West Georgia and a doctorate in humanities from Florida State University.
His wife, Michelle, is from Thomasville. He taught in South Georgia until moving to Tennessee.
While Max runs a hotel, Reddick accepted a position teaching English at Motlow College in Murfreesboro, Tenn., rising to dean of humanities and social sciences.
With two children, Nicholas and Audrey, Niles and Michelle returned to South Georgia a few years ago. He is now professor of humanities and vice president of academic affairs at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton.
“I have moved away from South Georgia at least three times and eventually returned,” Reddick says. “Two times were for graduate school, so maybe they don’t count. But when I moved back three years ago, I had been gone for almost 14 years.”
He’s surprised at the number of changes in the region.
“Things have changed in South Georgia a lot in that time period,” Reddick says. “I touched on some of those changes in the novel, and I do think this experience is one that many people face. Even when I come to Valdosta to visit family or to shop once a month or so, I drive by VSU, the park, my grandparents’ old house on Oak Street across from the cemetery, go to Dixie Cream, or pass the old Pipkin’s Motors on Ashley where my dad worked for over 40 years. I have a real mixed-up sense.
“On the one hand, it’s great to see these places and relive all the wonderful memories, but at the same time, you really can’t go back. I didn’t pick the title ‘Lead Me Home’ because I believe you can go back. I picked it because we constantly go home in our minds in an attempt to understand who we are and because the title hit me in church one Sunday in Murfreesboro, Tenn., when we were singing ‘Amazing Grace.’”
“Lead Me Home” contains plenty of observations on the changing life of the South, in general, and South Georgia, in particular. Reddick has an easy-reading style that touches upon deep themes without smothering the reader.
This will come as no surprise to readers of Reddick’s first book, “Road Kill Art and Other Oddities,” a collection of short stories released a few years ago.
“Road Kill Art” contained stories/character sketches of an aunt who uses deer limbs for the legs of a coffee table, a man punished for the good deed of driving his riding lawn mower across town to cut a relative’s grass, a frightened traveler seated on a plane next to a suicidal military man.
Approaching a novel posed a new set of challenges for Reddick as a writer.
“I think it’s much more difficult to write a novel,” Reddick says. “There has to be a flow, and there has to be a continuous story. It took me a long time to learn that. I would write 200 pages, and at the end, I didn’t even have a story.”
The stories in “Road Kill Art” came in bursts through a period of years. He worked on the novel for about a year.
“There are so many details in a novel, too, that you have to keep up with,” Reddick says. “I think when life is so complex with work, kids, community involvement, the details are difficult to keep up with, at least for me.”
Though he drew from his experiences to create the story and Max, Niles Reddick is not Max Peacock.
“Certainly, there is some of me in the main character in the book, but not all of Max is me,” he says. “Much of the novel is truly fiction, but some of it is based on reality. It may be that Max is better than me — someone I would like to be more like. He’s much more well-behaved than I have been in my life.”
Reddick has been considering another novel. He recently wrote a long-form short story, “Drifting Too Far from the Shore,” a darker work, which is under consideration from a couple of magazines.
Niles Reddick’s “Lead Me Home” is available in book stores or may be ordered through amazon.com