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Shirley Ann Grau's first collection of short stories, quite perfect cameos a deep southern setting, were followed by a more shapeless first novel and a second one which did not establish her in this medium. The Keepers of the House, however, should be the breakthrough. It is a major novel in which the brushfires of racial and blood bitterness darken the delta landscape and give a direction and dimension the earlier books lacked. However, just as much of the novel's power stems from the unassailable artistry with which Miss Grau writes about the physical world, slow time of the seasons, the cotton fields and pine uplands, the stretching swamps and the river ""which turns back the sky, dully, like an old mirror"". Here, in the old plantation house built many generations ago, Abigail Howland tells her story and that of her grandfather William and his Negro woman Margaret, the two she loved whose lives ere inseparable with hers even in death. For Margaret, the tall, rawboned, reserved freejack who had been more of a mother to Abigail than her own, had also borne William Howland's other children whom in later years she had sent away up north, never to come back again ""as niggers"". And at William's death, after he had made the fortune which would give him, and at his death Abigail, control of the town and the county, Margaret leaves the plantation to die in the bottomlands where he had found her. Not so her memory, for Abigail marries an ambitious segregationist politician and the old story of Howland's ""Wood's colts"" is revived. Abandoned by her husband, Abigail is alone with her children to face an ugly racist attack and it is not in courage or hate, but out of ""necessity"" that she defends, defies, destroys-- (""It wasn't Will Howland you burned down, it was your own house."").... This is a novel of real magnitude and it confirms an astonishingly gifted writer with a power to stun and shatter.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1964
ISBN: 1400030749
Publisher: Knopf