Alabama is the setting for Covington's third novel, as it was for Gathering Home (1988) and Bird of Paradise (1990). This...



Alabama is the setting for Covington's third novel, as it was for Gathering Home (1988) and Bird of Paradise (1990). This one combines a coming-of-age story with a mining disaster and a Christmas miracle. It's late 1941, Pearl Harbor time. In a small mining town, two families are bracing for a difficult wedding. Nineteen-year-old Keller Hayes lives in a tiny company house with mine-worker father Ben Ray and mother Tess, a church-singer. Higher up the social scale are the Sandifers: filling-station owner Sandy, otherworldly wife Grace, and grease-monkey daughter Laura. The problem is Sandy, a mean drunk who's mighty sore at losing Laura to a miner's son and is threatening violence. Another worry for Keller is his unconventional mother's decision to invite Bolivia, the sweet-natured, gypsy-like town whore, who is pregnant; Keller suspects (correctly) that he's the father. But Bolivia's presence proves a godsend: she knows how to handle Scotty, another client, and literally disarms him. Keller competes with these characters (and Charles, the junkman who adores Bolivia) for the spotlight; then a mine wall collapses, killing some miners, trapping Ben Ray and others, and the disaster predominates. Covington shows, simplistically, how death energizes the living; even Sandy turns into a Good Samaritan, laying off the booze to help rescue his enemy Ben Ray, who emerges with a broken leg. Bolivia, though, is responsible for a greater miracle: After her baby is stillborn, black and white mourners come together at the funeral. That's a first. It's also a moment of excessive sweetness; all these people are just a little too good to be true, amiable lightweights, and this undercuts Covington's vision of a community bloody-but-unbowed. Decent work, then, but without much of a payoff.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1992