Books by Rilla Askew

MOST AMERICAN by Rilla Askew
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: June 1, 2017

"An eloquently thoughtful memoir in essays."
A respected novelist muses on the tortured nature of her relationship to the state where she was born and raised. Read full book review >
KIND OF KIN by Rilla Askew
Released: Jan. 8, 2013

"Askew deftly weaves all this together in a narrative that foregrounds a number of important contemporary issues: religion, immigration, the economy and the effect of all of these on family life."
An Oklahoma-centric novel about the "crime" of harboring illegal Mexican workers. Read full book review >
HARPSONG by Rilla Askew
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 30, 2007

"A memorable portrait of a bizarre but credible marriage teetering between hope and despair."
A young man, his teenaged wife and his harmonica crisscross the Depression-era Southwest in Askew's mournful, compelling, religion-infused third novel. Read full book review >
FIRE IN BEULAH by Rilla Askew
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 15, 2001

"Imperfect, then, but powerful and thoughtful."
From the talented and ambitious Askew (The Mercy Seat, 1997), a second novel set in her native state of Oklahoma, this time a tale of primal guilt and racial intolerance during the oil boom. Read full book review >
THE MERCY SEAT by Rilla Askew
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 1, 1997

Oklahoma native Askew follows the spare, haunting stories of her debut collection, Strange Business (1992), with a wrenching Cain-and-Abel first novel set in a vividly realized 19th-century American West. In 1886, brothers John and (La) Fayette ``Fate'' Lodi make a hurried move from their Kentucky homeland to the promise of new land and a new start in Oklahoma's Indian Territory. Their story is initially narrated by John's ten-year-old daughter Mattie, who knows it is her uncle's dishonest dealings that have forced their move, and also intuits ``the brotherness that would not let them love one another nor unbind themselves.'' This troubled union dominates the rest of their days and precipitates the violent climax toward which the novel inexorably moves. Askew shifts adroitly among Mattie's narration, the ``testimony'' of other family and neighbors, and an omniscient over-voice (reminiscent of that in Faulkner's novels) that effectively summarizes and interprets actions that their participants only partially understand. The hardships endured during the Lodis' journey westward establish the pattern for a succession of beautifully developed extended scenes, including the wasting away and sudden death (from homesickness and heartbreak) of Mattie's mother, Mattie's own exhausted efforts to mother her younger siblings (most strikingly, her confrontation with a black wet-nurse she accuses of ``witching'' her baby sister), her ``spells'' and their relation to Mattie's belief in the world of spirits, and the climactic action that separates and will eventually, ironically, reunite the troubled brothers. Askew excels at indirect characterization: Her portrayals (entirely through others' eyes) of John Lodi's patient, stoical forbearance (he's a skilled gunsmith, who turns his weapons, as it were, into ploughshares) and his brother Fate's mean, shifty criminality are marvelously concise yet full-blooded. And Mattie is simply one of the most engaging and heartbreaking characters in contemporary fiction. Reminiscent of the work of Elizabeth Madox Roberts and perhaps Wright Morris's Plains Song. A magnificent debut novel. (Author tour) Read full book review >
STRANGE BUSINESS by Rilla Askew
Released: July 1, 1992

Ten stories, all set in the small town of Cedar, Oklahoma, each titled by the year it is respectively are set in, make up Askew's debut volume. Local lore and town-consciousness bind some in the manner of ritual: the creepy misfit all the kids are afraid of; the local good-old-boy killed in Vietnam; the summer visit by a worldly cousin from California. Others are less usual: a woman shoots her long-nagging husband; an old man newly dead watches his own funeral; a pet raccoon turns feral at the moment a boy most identifies with the animal. But, together, the stories allow only a muzzy impression of Askew's tale-telling: the style-changes hinder clear view. One story is superb, though, and does give evidence of the talent the others dilute. In ``1967,'' a young Cedar girl, Lyla Mae, goes out on a date—her first—with a boy from another town. Too young to drive himself, the boy picks her up in a truck captained by his obese uncle and the uncle's girlfriend. All four drive miles, to a baseball game in the boy's hometown, a game that Lyla Mae sits through as though through purgatory: strangenesses pile onto each other with every minute, along with the terrible knowledge that you can like someone but not like his or her life. The story has physical immediacy and a sense of wonderful/terrible apprehension, and is by the far the best thing here. A middling first collection, then, with one marvelous exception. Read full book review >