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Cooper (The Matter Is Life, 1991, etc.) relates this meandering tale of two half-sisters in a folksy, dialect-strewn voice that is moralistic -- and also pretty dull. In the small town of Yoville, a newly emancipated slave named Josephus Josephus chooses to remain for a spell on the plantation of his former masters, the Krupts, while he plans his next move. While there, he courts a neighboring woman, who then marries a different man but gives birth to Ruth, who Josephus is convinced is his daughter: ""He just watched the child as she grew for signs that she might be his. He saw them and knew she was his child."" Shortly afterward, the disgusting, drunken Mrs. Krupt commands Josephus to have sex with her and becomes pregnant, eventually giving birth to a daughter named Yinyang. After Yinyang discovers her mother's hidden stash of gold, Josephus steals it and buries half in the ground, then Josephus and Yinyang leave together and he dies shortly afterward, but not before giving her some gold coins. Back in Yoville, Ruth discovers the buried treasure, marries the love of her life, and starts having children. Meanwhile, after a stint in New Orleans living with a woman who showers her with gifts and ""loans"" her to a priest, grown-up Yinyang returns to Yoville. The story flips back and forth between Ruth and Yinyang (and, after Ruth's death, between her daughter Hosanna and Yinyang) with dizzying speed, as if to force home the good girl/bad girl dichotomy. More irritating are the constant references to Satan's feelings about things (""Satan smiled in amusement. 'I will be there with some suggestions to make, little one.' "") and the authorial instructions on clean living (""You just watch those Ten Commandments and watch out for people who do not respect and try to do them""). Imitative of but in no way equal to Zora Neale Hurston.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0385467869
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Doubleday