THE WARS OF HEAVEN by Richard Curry


Email this review


Six stories and a novella about laborers and poor mountain folk, mainly in Depression-era West Virginia. Curry wrote the Vietnam novel Fatal Light (1988). Faulkner-like characters and woeful tales here pull Curry toward the abyss of the pure maudlin--and much of the time over its edge. Handsome writing and a distanced tone keep the briefly sketched ""Tyler's Ballad"" (a young wife's inexplicable suicide) on relatively firm ground, and homely symbols of redemption--a hand-carved angel, a gift of garden vegetables--operate with a conventional, crafted smoothness in ""Old Fires"" (about a man whose brother died long ago in a coal-mine explosion). ""Believer's Flood"" is another look-back (at the bloody union struggles of the 1920's), taken this time by a 62-year-old ex-miner with black lung disease (""to get it straight in my mind. . .a man needs space and time and quiet""). In ""Jackson Stillwell,"" however, Curry abandons his controls and plunges headlong into the maudlin tale of a feebleminded and epileptic rural son who, before dying, searches for homespun beauty; and then pulls out the stops even further in ""Rock of Ages,"" about a dirt-poor, Snopes-like mountain boy trying to get his dying and retarded five-year-old brother to the doctor. Curry's effort to sing these tales of back-country suffering takes another redemptive if somewhat artificial turn in the title story, in which a dying murderer, trying to escape the law, takes refuge in a church (""I am the man who surrendered with one boot gone on St. Valentine's Day, the year of our lord nineteen hundred and thirteen. . .""). In the book's novella--""The Love of a Good Woman""--a comic-lyric tone takes over in the light and picaresque tale of one Delbert Keene, who leaves his wife and kids to become a clown in a traveling circus. A mix of sometimes rigorously poetic phrasings, descents into bathos, and pleasant tastes--especially in the airy novella--of a rather innocent earlier-this-century atmosphere.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1989
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin