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Safe from the Neighbors
Steve Yarbrough's Safe from the Neighbors may be my favorite of his novels thus far, though Visible Spirits is right there with it--and, well, I guess Oxygen Man too . . . Okay, never mind. They're all good. In Safe from the Neighbors, his latest, Yarbrough intertwines the personal histories of the inhabitants of his fictional Loring, Mississippi with one of the major historical events of the time, the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. Yarbrough loves the ordinary folks of Loring, that's clear in every word he writes--but he is also keenly aware of their shortcomings, the most grievous among them being a deeply ingrained racism. He knows that these people he loves would have almost uniformly been opposed to allowing blacks to attend Ole Miss. In his stories of Loring, he doesn't for a moment attempt to forgive or any way expiate the sins of ordinary Southerners--but he does ask his readers to look into the complex workings of the ordinary human heart and to understand what it might have been like to be there, to be caught up in the sweep of history, to make choices that will define you forever. He asks us to understand how the personal and the political are always inextricably bound together--and so to better understand why his characters behave as they do. He doesn't ask us to forgive them, the ones that make bad choices, or even to applaud the ones that make good choices (this is especially the case in Safe from the Neighbors), he only allows us to live with them for a time, to see their lives as part of a complex weave of culture and individual nature. Yarbrough doesn't judge his characters so much as show them to us, and those of us who are looking closely, I think, may very well see ourselves in them, both the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. For me, this is his most masterful accomplishment as a writer--to show us the lives of these deeply flawed people and yet to somehow render--for me at least, for this reader--an overriding beauty and wonder.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 21, 2010
In Loring, Mississippi Luke May teaches history at the local high school. His marriage is on the rocks as he and his wife college Freshman English Professor and poet Jennifer share no interests especially since their daughters now attends the U of Mississippi.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Maggie Sorrentino comes home to Loring to teach French. She left town after her father killed her mother in what was officially ruled self defense. The killing occurred the night before James Meredith entered the University of Mississippi; that same evening Maggie's father and Luke's dad were part of the White Citizens Council that drove to Oxford to prevent Meredith from attending class. Luke and Maggie begin an affair and he tries to uncover what happened on that fatal night over four decades ago.
The key to this strong look at the impact of historical racism and the Civil Rights movement on subsequent generations is that Steve Yarbrough does not condemn anyone; even those who spurred by hatred tried to prevent Meredith from attending the U of Mississippi. Instead he presents his cast in 1962 and forty years later as people with faults and flaws. Readers will enjoy the amateur historian's efforts to learn the truth from a silent generation in which even his father who was there refuses to say anything while those he teaches looks at the Meredith event as ancient history.