by Donald Harington ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 1, 1991
Another novel about Stay More, Arkansas, and the backwoods people who inhabit it. Harington (The Cockroaches of Stay More, etc.) here fictionalizes an actual event--the story of an innocent mountaineer convicted of rape and sentenced to be executed but who is finally saved through the efforts of a woman hired to draw his picture before his execution--into a solid, lyrical work, fast-paced and strongly rendered. Set in the Arkansas of 1914, it's about Nail Chism, a solitary who ""kept a pastureful of sheep,"" an odd duck in a community of odd ducks. Full of backwoods lore, the narrative establishes the dog-eat-dog world of Stay More and its environs, where the men are either too shy to court women, as lust-ridden as dogs, or rotten-clever in the manner of Faulkner's Snopes clan. Judge Sull Jerram, married to Nail's sister Irene, is rotten-clever. When Nail, aggrieved over the Judge's treatment of his sister, refuses to help the local bootleggers and threatens to go to authorities, Jerram rapes a local girl and has Nail arrested and convicted for it. The book then dramatizes the Dickensian conditions in the death hole and the stockade at The Walls, Arkansas's prison. On three separate occasions, Nail is nearly electrocuted, but each time a variety of circumstances (and melodrama) thwarts the final act. Viridis Monday, the artist who creates a furor and finally saves him, is central to the plot. She smuggles long letters to him, visits Stay More in search of evidence and pleads with a hard-hearted governor for his pardon. Her story is interwoven with Nail's before he finally escapes from prison, Judge Jerram is shot, and a new reform-minded governor pardons Nail in time for his marriage to Viridis and an odd but satisfying future-tense postmodern conclusion. A flat-out good read. By its finish, we know not only its characters but an entire subculture, evoked in all its ritual and detail.
Pub Date: April 1, 1991
Page Count: -
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991
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