Books by James Kilgo

Released: Nov. 25, 1999

This lean-limbed, superbly written southern memoir, set in the author's hometown of Darlington, South Carolina, collects four stories about the Christmas season. Nature writer and novelist Kilgo (Daughter of My People, 1998, etc.) delineates real-life characters as memorable as his fictional ones. "The Promise," the most strongly focused tale, recounts how the author's father, sent to Officers Candidate School in 1944, promises his son he—ll return to see him. When Dad gets a 48-hour Christmas furlough, Mom borrows a car and a driver, then sets off on the 14-hour drive to the base, overcoming a wreck and other setbacks. In "The Lionel," young James's obsessive desire for a Lionel train set is granted only with great difficulty, but the boy's joy shrinks once his buddies have trains too. The title piece tells of Kilgo and his wife collecting figures for a fabulous wooden cräche carved by European craftsmen. A fellow named Peter, hauling a cross by foot from Miami to Maine, has Christmas dinner with them and proves to be unforgettably pure of heart. Kilgo has stored up plenty of dimes, and we get to draw on their interest. (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: May 21, 1998

A debut novel of considerable emotional force, by an accomplished essayist (Deep Enough for Ivorybills, 1988). Kilgo sets his novel in rural South Carolina, in 1918, ringing some audacious changes on a subject that might seem to hold few new dramatic possibilities: the love of two contentious brothers for the same woman. In this case, some of the tension in the telling comes from the fact that the woman, Jennie, is a mulatto and, since the brothers are white, is thus forbidden to them. They can sleep with her (Hart has been carrying on an affair with her for many years, while Tison, older and wealthier, watches in growing frustration), but they cannot, given their own upbringing or the society (still violently racist) in which they live, treat their interest as more than physical indulgence. One of the strength's of Kilgo's narrative is his portrait of Jennie. Troubled, complex, resilient, she is far more than an uncomplaining figure upon whom the two can project their fantasies. Another distinctive element here is Kilgo's perceptive and convincing grasp of the awful complexities of race in the South in the recent past. Jennie has not only grown up around the brothers, but she is distantly related to them, the unacknowledged result of an affair between her mother and one of the brother's in-laws. The author's nonfiction work has largely been about the interactions of men and nature in the South, and his depiction here of the life in an isolated town, with its decrepit farms, overgrown plantations, and dense woodlands, is memorably rich and exact, as is his description of the complex, often violent, and painfully intimate relations between the races. There's not much surprise about the bloody outcome of the clash between Hart and Tison, nor is there meant to be. Kilgo is clearly more interested in finding a fictional metaphor for the complexities of desire and race. As such, his first novel is a memorable success'sad, vivid, and haunting. Read full book review >