From the Publisher
" A moment of truth that is art . " -- The New York Times, 1962
"Reynolds Price is the most impressive new writer I've come across in a long time. His is a first-rate talent and we are lucky that he has started so young to write so well. Here is a fine novel."
“Few writers have made as dramatic an entrance on the American literary stage as Mr. Price.”—William Grimes, New York Times, 2011
Read an Excerpt
Just with his body and from inside like a snake, leaning that black motorcycle side to side, cutting in and out of the slow line of cars to get there first, staring due-north through goggles towards Mount Moriah and switching coon tails in everybody's face was Wesley Beavers, and laid against his back like sleep, spraddle-legged on the sheepskin seat behind him was Rosacoke Mustian who was maybe his girl and who had given up looking into the wind and trying to nod at every sad car in the line, and when he even speeded up and passed the truck (lent for the afternoon by Mr. Isaac Alston and driven by Sammy his man, hauling one pine box and one black boy dressed in all he could borrow, set up in a ladder-back chair with flowers banked round him and a foot on the box to steady it) -- when he even passed that, Rosacoke said once into his back "Don't" and rested in humiliation, not thinking but with her hands on his hips for dear life and her white blouse blown out behind her like a banner in defeat.
It was because Wesley was a motorcycle man since his discharge (or would be, come Monday) and wouldn't have brought her in a car if fire had fallen in balls on every side. He had intended taking her to the picnic that way, and when Mildred Sutton died having her baby without a husband and Rosacoke felt compelled to go to the funeral first and asked Wesley please to take her, he said he would, but he saw no reason to change to a car for a Negro funeral. Rosacoke had to get there and couldn't walk three miles in dust and couldn't risk him going on ahead so she didn't argue but pulled her skirt up over her knees for all to see and put her hat in thesaddlebag and climbed on.
Riding like that she didn't see the land they passed through -- nothing new or strange but what she had passed every day of her life almost, except for the very beginning and some summer clays when she had left for 4-H camp at White Lake or to stay with Aunt Oma in Newport News or to set with somebody in the hospital, like Papa before he died. But the land was there, waiting.
The road passed a little way from the Mustians' porch, and if you came up their driveway and turned left, you would be at the Afton store and the paving soon, and that took you on to Warrenton where she worked. But they turned right today and the road narrowed as it went till it was only wide enough for one thing going one way -- a car or a truck or a mule and wagon -- and it being July, whatever passed, even the smallest foot, ground more dirt to dust that rose several times every hour of the day and occasionally -- invisibly -- at night and lingered awhile and at sunset hung like fog and if there was no breeze, settled back on whatever was there to receive it -- Rosacoke and Mama and Rato and Milo walking to church, if it had been a first Sunday and ten years ago before Milo got his driving license -- but settling mostly on Negro children aiming home in a slow line, carrying blackberries they had picked to eat (and if you stopped and said, "How much you asking for your berries?" they would be so surprised and shy and forget the price their mother told them to say if anybody stopped, and hand them over, bucket and all, for whatever you wanted to give, and all the dust you raised would be on those berries when you got home). It settled on leaves too -- on dogwood and hickory and thin pine and holly and now and then a sycamore and on Mr. Isaac Alston's cherry trees that huddled around the pond he had made for the hot air to pass over, choked and tan till there would come a rain -- trees he had set out as switches twelve years ago on his seventieth birthday and poured fish in the water smaller than the eye could see and claimed he would live to sit in that cool cherry shade and pull out the dim descendants of those first minnows. And he might, as the Alstons didn't die under ninety.
What Alstons had died were the things they came to, after trees -- the recent ones, overflowed from the family graves and laid out on this side of Delight Baptist Church, looking shorter than anybody would have guessed, with people around them that never had family graves to begin with -- Rosacoke's Papa (who was her grandfather and who by the time he died had completely forgotten Miss Pauline his wife and asked to be buried beside his mother and then forgot to tell them where his mother was) and Miss Pauline, the size of a dressed rabbit, and Rosacoke's own father who was no Baptist (who wasn't much of anything) and whose grave had sunk into the ground. The graves went towards the church, taking grass with them, and then the white sand began that had been hauled in from a creek bed. The church stood in the sand under two oak trees, wooden and bleached and square as a gun-shell box, daring people not to come. The Mustians went and even Wesley Beavers, with his name.
But it wasn't where they were going now so they passed by, and the graves and Delight Church and the sand and the two long picnic tables turned to the woods that Milo and Rosacoke and Rato had run in as children with Mildred Sutton and any other Negroes she brought along (that had scattered now, to Baltimore mostly). The woods began by the road and went back farther than Rosacoke or even the boys had ever gone, not because they were scared but because they got tired -- the woods went on that long, and every leaf of them belonged to Mr. Isaac Alston. Once Rosacoke and Mildred packed them a dinner and said to themselves, "We will walk till we come to an open field where somebody is growing something." So they walked on slowly in a straight line through the cool damp air under trees where sun never came but only this green light the mushrooms grew by. When they had walked an hour, they were breathing in air that nothing but possums and owls had breathed before, and snakes if snakes breathed. Mildred didn't like the idea but Rosacoke kept going, and Mildred came on behind, looking mostly up, checking on the sky to still be there and to see what snakes were studying down on them. Then they came to an open field the size of a circus ring where there were no trees but only bitter old briars and broomstraw the color of Milo's beard that was just then arriving. They sat on the edge of that to eat their biscuits and syrup and for Mildred to rest her feet, but Rosacoke thought and decided they couldn't stop here as it wasn't a field where anybody had meant to grow anything. (Nothing ate broomstraw but mules and mules only ate it if they thought it was something you valued.) So they stood up to go, and Mildred's mouth fell open and said "Great God A-mighty" because there was one deer behind them in the trees for quicker than it took to say if it had horns. But its eyes were black and it had looked at them. When its last sound had gone, Rosacoke said, "Don't let's go no farther" and Mildred said "All right." They were not afraid of any deer, but if those woods offered things like that, that would take the time to look at you, when you had only walked an hour, where would they end, and what would be growing in any field they found on the other side, and who would be tending it there? So they came out, taking their time, proving they hadn't given up for fear, and when they got to the road, Mildred spoke for the first time since calling on God to see that deer -- "Rosacoke, it's time for me some supper" -- and they parted. It was no more time for supper than it was for snow, but Mildred meant to get home quick and unload that deer on somebody -- his streak he made through the trees and the sound of his horn feet in the old leaves and his eyes staring on through all those biscuits at what they did, and waiting.
If Rosacoke had looked up from Wesley's back at the woods, she might have remembered that day and how it was only nine years ago and here she was headed to bury that same Mildred, and