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.”