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A debut novel of considerable emotional force, by an accomplished essayist (Deep Enough for Ivorybills, 1988). Kilgo sets his novel in rural South Carolina, in 1918, ringing some audacious changes on a subject that might seem to hold few new dramatic possibilities: the love of two contentious brothers for the same woman. In this case, some of the tension in the telling comes from the fact that the woman, Jennie, is a mulatto and, since the brothers are white, is thus forbidden to them. They can sleep with her (Hart has been carrying on an affair with her for many years, while Tison, older and wealthier, watches in growing frustration), but they cannot, given their own upbringing or the society (still violently racist) in which they live, treat their interest as more than physical indulgence. One of the strength’s of Kilgo’s narrative is his portrait of Jennie. Troubled, complex, resilient, she is far more than an uncomplaining figure upon whom the two can project their fantasies. Another distinctive element here is Kilgo’s perceptive and convincing grasp of the awful complexities of race in the South in the recent past. Jennie has not only grown up around the brothers, but she is distantly related to them, the unacknowledged result of an affair between her mother and one of the brother’s in-laws. The author’s nonfiction work has largely been about the interactions of men and nature in the South, and his depiction here of the life in an isolated town, with its decrepit farms, overgrown plantations, and dense woodlands, is memorably rich and exact, as is his description of the complex, often violent, and painfully intimate relations between the races. There’s not much surprise about the bloody outcome of the clash between Hart and Tison, nor is there meant to be. Kilgo is clearly more interested in finding a fictional metaphor for the complexities of desire and race. As such, his first novel is a memorable success’sad, vivid, and haunting.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8203-2002-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998