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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kaye Gibbons Excerpt

I'm reading again. Phew. I finished a book two days ago, am half way through the next one, and feeling really good. As far as I know, Kaye Gibbons isn't particularly well known, and she isn't what one would call one of the great American novelists, but I did go through a Gibbons phase in college where I tore through 4 or 5 of her novels, courtesy of Half-Priced Books in Irving. Of course, I was egotistically predisposed to like her, as her best known novel is Ellen Foster. A few others, which you may or may not have heard of: On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon, Charms for the Easy Life, A Virtuous Woman, and The Life All Around Me. She writes in the Southern tradition, but isn't so subtle and difficult to decipher as some of the great Southern novelists sometimes are. She's readable and entertaining, despite the fact that she does handle some pretty dark stuff. Her Flannery-esque characters are easy to love and easy to hate, according to their (generally) clear virtues and vices. And she is good enough that both Eudora Welty and Walker Percy had good things to say about her. Walker Percy: "Ellen Foster is the real thing. Which is to say, a lovely, sometimes heart-wrenching novel."

These are the sort of books that would be good for reading out loud with one or two friends and some bourbon. I know I'm enjoying re-reading the story of Blinking Jack Stokes and Ruby Pitt Woodrow. She's a twenty year old run-away, once-genteel daughter of a farmer, now a widowed and disillusioned fragment, inescapably fated to die of lung cancer, all thanks to the heinous John Woodrow, a migrant scoundrel who deserved his graphic death. Jack is forty, the sort of man who is too simple ever to have done anything unkind or wrong, and is there to help her when she needs it. To entice you and motivate you to read it for yourself, I give you their first encounter:
That third day I went to work was the day I met Jack. I was waiting under the big tree in the backyard, waiting for somebody, either Tiny Fran or her mother, to come out and tell me to come on in, you didn't dare just go up and knock on the door, be it front door or back door, and I saw a skinny man with his dungarees all hung down around his hips, swerving, trying to manage a tall load of manure, headed across the yard towards me. . . . He pushed his wheelbarrow right up to me that day like approaching young women waiting under pecan trees was something he did every day, like it was something he regularly did on the way from the chicken house to the garden. I wasn't afraid at all by the way he looked at me, not like the way I felt when I'd stand up from picking and see the crew chief staring. Jack's look was more like what happens when I'm walking from here to the store and the sun catches something on the side of the road just right, and I wonder if it's a dime or a piece of jewelry, but then I know nobody out here has any jewelry to lose, so I pick the dime up, rub the dirt off, look at it hard, hard as I'd look if it'd been a brooch, just because I'd found it, and finding anything of value is unusual, be it a dime or a man with clay-red skin or a young woman resting under a pecan tree. (A Virtuous Woman, Vintage, 68-70)

Of course, if you haven't got time to commit to a whole novel, Charms for the Easy Life was made into what I remember being a pretty good movie, starring Gena Rowlands. Guys, it's a chick movie. Consider yourselves warned. Ellen Foster was also made into a movie, but I've never seen it, so I really couldn't tell you anything about it.


  1. Ellie:

    I will not read the excerpt you posted. When I read the excerpts taken from Special Topics in Calamity Physics, I purchased and read the entire book immediately. I just don't have that kind of time right now and will have to finish at least 1 of the 8 or so other books I am reading before even considering your latest suggestion. Thank you for understanding.

    Oh yes, and don't panic. I will write you my thoughts on Pessl eventually. You probably will disagree with me, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

    Ave Maria!

    1. Dear Josh,

      Yes, of course. About once a year I declare myself in a "book acquisition fast" for similar reasons. I'm glad, though, that you were so forcibly prompted to read it. Marisa Wolfe recommended it to me last summer, so you have her to thank for it.

      Now, you might be surprised at my final evaluation of Pessl, though I suppose that doesn't necessarily mean that your supposition of our lack of concurrence is erroneous. Okay, haha, I'm having fun here. Anyway, I'll leave you in suspense until you tell me what you thought.

      I didn't think the ending of this Gibbons book was particularly satisfying, by the way, so comfort yourself with that.