Oprah protégée Lincoln offers a debut collection of 12 folksy tales delicately and graciously delineating the hardscrabble lives of a series of southern rural characters.
Many of these stories, gripped by subtle violence, concern various members of the Fuller family: Ma’D, once a vivacious young bride, her dreams gradually blunted by the harsh reality of farm life; her husband Hiron Fuller, a WWII vet so demoralized by racism that he returns to the farm an alcoholic failure; and their four daughters. In “Acorn Pipes,” Hiron’s sudden, gruesome accidental death by axe prompts second-oldest daughter Hira to fabricate for the benefit of her incredulous sisters a tall tale about their father teaching her to make acorn pipes. The sisters are desperate to believe that their daddy was more than just a drunken fool, and they hide under the porch, splintering acorns in their hands, as they listen to the neighbors’ malevolent gossip overhead. In “A Very Close Conspiracy,” on the other hand, Hiron relates the affecting details of his own story to his mule, Walter P, on the last fateful day of his life. Oldest daughter Cinny figures in several of the tales as the strongest-willed of the sisters, defying her mother even when they come to blows. In “Wishes,” she dares to pray that her no-good father (Cinny “knew all the secrets of a grown man’s frailties”) will die and leave them all in peace. Other stories, such as “Bug Juice” and “Winter’s Wheat,” sketch entire family tragedies within a few vivid observations by the child narrator; they point up Lincoln's debt to such African-American writers as Toni Morrison and to oral history.
The slenderness of the narratives belies their emotional strength, revealing the author's deep conviction that the writing process itself can redeem the poverty, ignorance, cruelty in her characters’ lives.