THE MILLS OF GOD by William R. Armstrong


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Armstrong's slow grinding, endlessly masticating portrait of depression Appalachia couldn't be more aptly titled. The present action -- distended by twelve year-old Aaron Skinner's bitter reverie -- consists of Aaron's purchase of a dog with fifteen dollars earned cutting cedar sprouts and digging thistles for rich Thomas Ruffner, his close escape from Ruffner's bull while returning with Rowdy across the field, his fattening of the dog at the home of a 45 year-old blind friend before he dares show it to his parents, his running off after Ruffner makes him return Rowdy, and -- in a surprise ending for which there has been no preparation whatever -- Thomas Ruffner's hanging himself after hearing a rumor that Aaron had been shot and killed. Armstrong's propensity for stopping time is nowhere so evident as when Aaron and Rowdy are charged by the bull and Aaron, certain that his death is near, reviews the scenes that ""etch their picture lines on the boy's rather drab and colorless panorama of memory."" (Though Armstrong claims that the etching is ""swifter than lightning,"" the very consonants of his repetitive sentences require deliberation: ""For almost all his hopes had died before a boy's long day died -- even as this day's hope and dream was dying in a dry gulch before a day's end."") By the time we've flashed back through Aaron's brother's death from whooping cough, his resentment at the absence of trees around his family's house, and at last his ""awful awareness of neglect of heart life for hand life,"" we have to turn back the pages to recall the relative positions of boy, dog and bull. To the extent that this is more than a slow drag through dry dirt it reads like a parody of Sounder without the racial dimension.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1973
Publisher: Doubleday