Ruffin shows that “Southern” does not always have to be paired with “Gothic” and that “where families are concerned, things...



Remarkable stories of seekers, idealists, visionaries and the occasional racist, written in an authentic Southern idiom.

Ruffin’s (Castle in the Gloom, 2004, etc.) characters inhabit a space—usually Mississippi—where they can act out a range of emotions on both the domestic and religious fronts. One of the best stories starts out the collection: “When Momma Came Home for Christmas and Talmidge Quoted Frost.” The story is constructed around a quasi-metaphysical (and funny) debate about what to do with the ashes of Darlene’s mother. Darlene’s barely domesticated husband Talmidge (“she had over the years subdued him to the useful and the good by methodically correcting his manners and language until she at least felt comfortable with him in Wal-Mart”) joins Darlene in a plot to load at least some of his mother-in-law’s ashes into a Christmas ornament and wing it over the fence of the old home place. In “The Queen,” Earl McManus, recently retired from a shipyard in Pascagoula, finally builds a 45-foot dream boat in his backyard to the delight of his wife and the consternation of his son. Grover Johnson, in the story that gives its name to the collection, lets down his softball team composed of power-company linemen in pursuit of a larger mystery: a mirror that discloses a “blond, blue-eyed Jesus” when it fogs up. “In Search of the Tightrope Walker” reveals yet another idealist, a retired professor in search of a dream vision of a circus performer he’d seen as a child. After a mediocre career and a failed marriage, he’s desperately seeking the image of perfection and beauty he’d experienced years earlier. And along the way, he learns Ruffin’s most endearing truth: “Most stories about people are sad. The ones about animals sometimes turn out all right, but not them about people.”

Ruffin shows that “Southern” does not always have to be paired with “Gothic” and that “where families are concerned, things are rarely simple.”

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-57003-699-6

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Univ. of South Carolina

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

Did you like this book?

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...


An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet