Roxanna Slade

Roxanna Slade

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by Reynolds Price

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Not since Reynolds Price's award-winning, bestselling novel Kate Vaiden has he told a woman's story in her own voice. Roxanna Slade is this woman.
Roxanna begins her story on her twentieth birthday — a day that introduces her to the harsh realities of adulthood and changes the course of her life forever. From this day on, Roxanna is quick to share


Not since Reynolds Price's award-winning, bestselling novel Kate Vaiden has he told a woman's story in her own voice. Roxanna Slade is this woman.
Roxanna begins her story on her twentieth birthday — a day that introduces her to the harsh realities of adulthood and changes the course of her life forever. From this day on, Roxanna is quick to share with the reader the intimate details of ninety years of life in North Carolina. Her beguiling tale is one that boldly reflects the high and low moments in the development of the modern South and the nation as well as the inner strength of a woman possessed of a piercingly clear vision, forthright hungers and immense vitality.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Richard Bernstein The New York Times Reading Reynolds Price's novel Roxanna Slade is like sitting through a long and languid North Carolina evening and listening to an intimate summing up of a hard life.

Diana Postlethwaite The Washington Post Reading Roxanna Slade is like sitting at the feet of the wisest, most engaging, truth-tellingest grandmother imaginable....Here is language you can swim in, inhale, savor on the tip of your tongue.

David Weigand San Francisco Chronicle Roxanna Slade is a profoundly and provocatively hope-filled book — one might even say spiritual....Masterful...compelling.

Charles Frazier author of Cold Mountain What a privilege to sit down with this book and let Roxanna Slade's wise, strong voice talk in your mind for a measure of hours about the profound consequence of ordinary lives.

James Schiff The Raleigh News & Observer A virtuoso performance...through Roxanna's voice Price demonstrates that he, more than any of his contemporaries, is indeed a singer of stories.

Janet Burroway The New York Times Book Review A chronicler of decency, pluck and joy, in novel after novel [Price] has given us the weight and worth of the ordinary.

Ellen Kanner The Miami Herald Roxanna Slade shows that in a world of deceit, a simple, good woman is something exceptional. She can tell a good story if you have the time to listen.

Barbara Holliday Detroit Free Press Reynolds Price may well be the dean of Southern writers.

Anne Rivers Siddons Extraordinary. Price knows all there is to know about the American South, and Roxanna Slade is what he knows. It's a powerful book in its deceptive simplicity, vivid and particular. I loved it.

Polly Paddock Gossett The Charlotte Observer Price proves yet again why he is one of America's most esteemed writers. His prose is rich and lyrical; his insights keen; his ability to slip inside the skin of his characters (especially women) astounding.

The Barnes & Noble Review
Wednesday 1998

The second time I met Reynolds Price was uneventful. So was the first, at which I didn't so much meet him as stand next to him. Still, each small moment changed the way I saw myself. That second time was the first time I ever ate at the Algonquin Hotel in New York. It was also the first time I got taken to dinner by my current literary agent, whose client list includes Nobel Laureates and National Book Award winners and who, I feared, had mistaken me for someone else.

We walked into the Algonquin dining room, and there was Price, in his big, shiny wheelchair, right at the Round Table!

I nearly fainted.

My agent hugged him. He was up from North Carolina for an awards dinner.

She introduced me to him as "my new client."

Price smiled his wide, genteel southern grin. "So," he said. "A junior partner in the firm."

I have no idea what I said. Something inane, surely.

He reached up, touched me on the shoulder. "Let her pay," he stage-whispered. "She's the agent."

She laughed. So did Price.

She and I took a table nearby. Thank God. I was working on my fourth book then, no novice. And there was nothing intimidating about that warm, friendly man. But I didn't feel like I belonged at that table, with that hero of mine.

Yet, there I was, in the same restaurant. In the same profession. A junior partner in the firm. Eating a meal Reynolds Price's agent paid for.


This is from Roxanna Slade, Price's novel, told in the voice of a 90-something woman, in the middle of herattemptto tell the story of her life:

The problem in trying to tell the story of a human life is easy to state. People's lives...are uneventful for way over three-fourths of their length. If you don't believe (and I know I don't) that every instant in a life is urgent to that person's fate, then you could write a satisfactory life of the busiest man or woman who ever lived in less than two pages, often on a postcard. Most things that happen to a person leave no more trace than last month's raindrop....

All the same, I'm almost convinced that if you can tell the absolute truth about the five or ten moments that mattered in any one life, then you'll have shown how every life is as useful to the world and to the eyes of God as any president's or pope's.

I'm not sure anyone ever said a wiser thing about trying to tell stories that involve recognizable human lives.

Price, at 65, is a throwback to that grand, dying tradition, the man of letters: poet, short story writer, playwright, novelist, reviewer, critic, essayist, autobiographer, translator (of the Gospels), and college professor. At Duke, Price teaches not only writing workshops (where his students have included Fred Chappell, Josephine Humphreys, and Anne Tyler) but also, once a year, the Milton seminar.

Roxanna Slade is Price's 30th book, but his main character's shrewd sense of narrative has been Price's credo from the get-go, when at the age of 29 he published his first novel, A Long and Happy Life (which, speaking of the Algonquin Round Table, was called a book that "strikes too deep to fuss around with analysis" by no less than Dorothy Parker).

In trying to solve the problem of telling the stories of recognizable human lives, Price, particularly in his short fiction (see The Collected Stories), has done what any master writing teacher would tell his students to do: Skip the "way over three-fourths" of your characters' lives that are uneventful and write about the eventful, interesting parts. But what's special about Price is his ability to spin long, deceptively simple stories by telling "the absolute truth about the five or ten moments that mattered in any one life."

At times, that life was Price's own, which he's written about in two fine autobiographies, Clear Pictures and A Whole New Life. (The latter deals directly with the astrocytoma in his spinal cord that rendered him a paraplegic in 1984; since then, Price has continued to teach and has produced more than a book a year!)

More often, those lives have been ones Price invented. The love story of Rosa and Wesley Beavers, for example, begun in A Long and Happy Life and continued in Good Hearts. Or the magnificent Kate Vaiden, in which the eponymous heroine, who describes herself as "a real middle-sized white woman that has kept on going with strong eyes and teeth for fifty-seven years," tells the story of those years, in the form of a faux autobiography. Anyone who marveled in Cold Mountain or She's Come Undone at how a male author can so convincingly write from a female perspective should enjoy seeing what a true master can do. This is the territory to which Price returns in Roxanna Slade: a woman, this one born with the century, who surveys both her own engagingly "uneventful" life and the century in which it was lived, deftly recalling societal changes along the way. Childbirth, for instance, "killed young mothers like flies, a fact that's all but forgotten today in America." There are lines like that every couple of pages; my wife politely asked me to stop reading so many aloud, because she wanted to read the book, too. I would have quoted more lines here, but she's in the next room reading and wanted the book back.


The first time I met Reynolds Price? The American Booksellers Association convention in Washington, D.C. His publisher was giving away copies of Clear Pictures, and Price would be signing them.

As I got close, I saw a long line. I joined it. It humbled me to see how far I had to go. But it also made me feel great about being in a profession where several hundred people gathered for someone as worthy as Price.

I drew closer. I saw a sign. I was in line for Vanna White's autobiography, Vanna Speaks. The line for Price was off to the left. Maybe 20 people long.

Price sat in that wheelchair and signed books and was charming, chatting up his modest crowd. Even among book people, Vanna White was a bigger draw than Reynolds Price. This is the kind of indignity any great American writer must suffer with grace.

If Price was suffering, he didn't show it. When I got to the front of the line, I inanely blurted that I, too, was a writer. He said some nice things to me that I was too starstruck to hear. He signed my book "With encouragement, Reynolds Price."

I've always felt like a freak, that I was so naive to have once thought people cared about real books.

Then again — nine years later, the game show second banana's book is out of print. Most of Price's rich body of work is readily available.

The absolute truth? Roxanna Slade would be a good place to start.

Mark Winegardner, a professor in the creative writing program at Florida State University, is the author of four books, including, most recently, the novel The Veracruz Blues.

Janet Burroway
[The author is] a chronicler of decency, pluck and joy [who has] given us the weight and worth of the ordinary.
The New York Times Book Review
Price seems to be positively channeling his honey-tongued woman narrator.
Richard Bernstein
Reading Roxanna Slade is like sitting through a long an languid North Carolina evening...listening to an intimate summing-up of a hard life....It promises to stay in the mind long after the final page is turned.
The New York Times
James Schiff
Roxanna is someone we listen to, and her words are almost palpable in their poetic intensity...her story reveals the grandeur and mystery that can be found in the close examination of a single life....Through Roxanna's voice, Price demonstrates that he, more than any of his contemporaries, is indeed a singer of stories.
Raleigh News & Observer
Dan Wiegand
A profoundly and provocatively hope-filled book -- Spiritual...masterful...compelling.
San Francisco Chronicle
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Many of the virtues that have endeared Price ("Kate Vaiden") to readers are present in this story of a North Carolina woman and several generations of her family. Price's musically cadenced, nostalgia-washed prose, plangent with portent and loss and vibrant with imagery, is as beguiling as ever. His picture of life in the South a century ago is imbued with candor about customs and attitudesespecially those concerning women and race. Equally evident is his tendency to construct improbably melodramatic events, a propensity that almost throws the novel off course. In the space of three hours on her 20th birthday in 1920, Roxanna Dane meets Larkin Slade, accepts his proposal of marriage and watches him drown. Even in the few pages it takes to recount these events, Price so thickly foreshadows tragedy that one grows impatient. Most of what happens to Roxanna for the first half of the book is strictly interior, a mystical soul-searching that has little to do with outside events: "I almost think the main part of my life has passed in my mind, hid even from me," she muses. Yet Price excels in documenting the remainder of Roxanna's life with sensitive attention to emotional detail, especially in his well-grounded descriptions of her debilitating clinical depression. And after Roxanna marries Larkin's brother Palmer, bears his children and learns about his infidelity, the second half of the novel perks up with some old-fashioned soap-opera juicethanks mainly to the horrendous legacy of slavery and its repercussions. The same voice that was overwrought when trying to describe a young girl's awakening becomes more interestingly idiosyncratic when looking at the New South, which Roxanna lives to experience and describe. FYI: Price's earlier novels, "Kate Vaiden" and "Clear Pictures", are being reissued to coincide with this novel's publication.
Washington Post Book World
Here is language you can swim in, inhale, and savor on the tip of your tongue.
Charlotte Observer
Price proves yet again why he is one of America's most esteemed writers.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A taut...highly affecting read.
Kirkus Reviews
A lovingly detailed record of a long and seemingly modest life, given resonance by the prolific Price's extraordinary language and his sharp eye for the subtle complexities of character ("The Promise of Rest", 1995, etc.). Roxana Slade, born with the century, looks back from the near present over her long and (seemingly) uneventful life as a wife and mother in a small North Carolina town. While seeming to focus on the ups and downs of her marriage to the decent, somewhat stolid Palmer, and the lives of her son and daughter, she also creates a rich portrait of a community dragged reluctantly out of its venerable agricultural existence into the raucous modern world. She begins by loving Palmer's younger brother, the handsome, flamboyant Larkin, until, in one of the tragedies that inevitably touch most lives, he dies in an accident. It's only later that the quiet Palmer comes to her attention. Using a first-person narrative plays to Price's strengths: Roxana's language is frank, seemingly unadorned, but subtly colored both by a tart regional flavor and by a nicely idiosyncratic rhythm and pace. And her detailed portrait of an extended southern family over time reminds us of Price's fascination with the decisive impact of the family, for good or ill, on individuals. There are appropriately dark scenes as well: Roxana, sinking into a bitter depression, briefly assaults her own daughter. And Palmer, though he is a devout and kindhearted figure, strikes his oldest friend in a fit of anger, blinding him in one eye. What emerges from Roxanaþs unblinking recollections is a portrait of an affectionate woman who has learned to master her own anger, come to grips with her regrets, andwho has drawn from the incidents of her life a hard-earned wisdom. Roxana is a memorable figure, and further indication of Price's quiet, precise power as a novelist.

Product Details

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1st Scribner Paperback Fiction Edition
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0.69(w) x 5.00(h) x 8.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Every time somebody calls me a saint, I repeat my name and tell them no saint was ever named Roxy. They know of course I was seldom called Roxy, though back in my childhood I tried to persuade my family to call me Roxy instead of the Anna which everybody chose but my brother Ferny. He'd call me Rox at least half the time and was my big favorite. For practical purposes Anna Dane was my maiden name, I never enjoyed it. Even now after so long it has never seemed to be me. Roxanna means Dawn or Daybreak which is fine, but my family never called anybody by their whole name.
So through the years I've consulted several child-naming books in hopes of discovering some good luck in Anna. But they just say the name is an English version of the Hebrew Hannah and that Hannah was the name of the prophet Samuel's mother and also Christ's maternal grandmother. Both women were likely saints, and I never felt the least kinship to either one. There was a popular song years back called "Hard-Hearted Hannah, the Vamp of Savannah, G.A." I've wished more than once she could have been me. But not one person who's ever counted deeply called me any more than nicknames, no one that is except a tall boy named Larkin Slade. And he died young, leaving me off stride for the rest of my life.
In a way Lark's death was the start of my life which is strange to think of. I was grown when he went, just barely grown. But I've given that odd fact a good deal of thought through the intervening years. Whenever I've heard about people's childhoods — how urgent they are to future health and pleasure — I've always felt that my childhood scarcely amounted to more than a dream, a pleasant enough dream with no grave fault, no hard stepmothers or beasts in the night but a made-up childhood all the same, certainly nothing real enough to cause the bitter pain I've since known and am bound to have given.
I had kind parents with no bad traits except my mother's tendency to put on flesh and the plug tobacco that my father chewed as neatly as any horse chews hay. They never had a great deal more money than it took to get from one day to the next. Father ran a store with groceries and dry goods that ranged from gingham to plow points but was always in dutch. Still none of us children ever went to bed hungry or lacked clean clothes sufficient to the season, and we were respected on every side.

In the kind of town where I grew up, few distinctions were made on account of money unless you were outright redheaded trash. Truth was, you were either white or black. In those days we said colored if we meant to be courteous and not hurt people, and the color of your skin pretty much said all there was to say. The Bible forbade calling anybody common (Acts X:15, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common"). So even if they were the sorriest white skin ever conceived, the worst you could call them was ordinary.
There were four Dane children in my generation, counting me — two girls, two boys. It was not a big family for that day and age. I and my sister Leela were the second and third children. There was one brother two years older than I and one who was younger than both us girls. So Leela and I came very close to raising the boys once Muddie's kidneys began to fail. Muddie was our mother. That failure took long years but always kept her unreliable for bearing serious weight and pressure.
Still my brothers were good boys in those days, just normally wild before they grew up and left home naturally. How they fared after moving away is a long grim tale that may not belong here, depending on where my story leads me. Both of them perished in sad circumstances well before they deserved, one of them leaving a wife and children that I've scarcely known. But I can see each of them in my mind's eye, fine as they were in their fortunate days and prone to gentleness till they each found some drug to lose their minds for — money in one case and pills in the other.

For instance it was through the good will of my younger brother Ferny that I met Larkin Slade and loved him on sight. Ferny had met Lark the summer I was nineteen when Fern went to work for a bachelor cousin of ours named Roscoe Dane far up on the Roanoke River, a cranky old bird who smelled like bacon and tried to cultivate rented land with insufficient help or truly good sense and was always in straits, though all of us liked him. His nearest neighbors were a family of Slades.
There was old Major Slade who'd lost half a leg and several fingers in the Civil War, his second wife Olivia who was far more beautiful than any woman since, and numerous children of all kinds and ages by each of the wives. Most of the young Slades had grown up and left with very little trace of themselves like children in old-time pioneer stories who bid you farewell and cross the far hills to vanish forever.
The Slade place had been up there way more than a century, just above the flood plain of the Roanoke when the river was wild. And though it was only eight miles from our home, Ferny stayed gone forever till Roscoe's cotton was sold in late September. When Fern got back to us in time to start his last year of school, he was browner than any walnut chair. And very nearly all he could offer by way of memory from a long summer's work was praise for somebody named Larkin Slade.
Lark Slade deserved all the praise he got, as I soon learned thanks to Ferny's good-hearted descriptions. My birthday falls on October 8th, and on the year in question — 1920 — I was blue for several causes as the date drew near. My sister Leela had fallen out with me for fairly normal sisterly reasons having to do with a blouse we shared. We'd spent too many years in each other's faces, and Muddie had taken my sister's side as she generally did. In those days in any case there were so many souls in every family that you never made much of any birthday even if you were well off, so I had no great hopes for my twentieth.

Then on October 7th when Ferny had been back at home for a few weeks, he walked in from the post office with a card addressed in a strong man's hand and called me aside to whisper a plan. "Let's give this whole bunch a big damned surprise." Fern always called our family this whole bunch. Then he said we could "borrow" Father's car before sunrise and motor up to Larkin's place for the day. Tomorrow would be Friday. Ferny had shaved Friday off more school weeks than not, and I didn't try to object on those grounds. Anyhow he flashed the postcard to show me Lark's signature. It looked like the map of splendid distant mountains.
I recalled Father never used the car on week days. Muddie couldn't have driven a goat cart in a crisis, much less a car. And since nobody then paid a scrap of attention to a driver's license, Ferny stole the car several times a year. He could start the Model T under water if called upon; and he'd run off with it and two especially ordinary girls the previous spring, staying nearly a week and requiring a hunt by the sheriff to find.
"It'll drive them all crazy," Fern said to tempt me. He was smiling down strongly at Lark Slade's postcard. By them Fern meant our family of course, and of course he was right. He and I were mostly the troublemakers, though the troubles were slight by comparison with any family's now.
I doubted Fern knew my birthday was coming that very next day. I chose not to tell him. I just nodded and smiled and said I'd be ready.
I could still make choices at a moment's notice, and seeing two things had made me say Yes — the mischief in Ferny's bright copper-brown eyes and the sight of Larkin Slade's whole name in his own rushing hand. Old as I was, and more than half of all girls near twenty then were married, I ought to have smelled the danger before us. I was old enough not to join my brother's foolishness and trick our father, a peaceful soul. I very well knew Ferny always overreached. But even a girl about to turn twenty — me, an earnest creature who took duty seriously — couldn't sense death coming on a cool fall day.
Copyright © 1998 by Reynolds Price

What People are saying about this

Anne Rivers Siddons
Extraordinary....It's a powerful book in its deceptive simplicity, vivid and particular.
Charles Frazier
What a privilege to sit down with this book and let Roxanna Slade's wise, strong voice talk in mind for a measure of hours about the profound consequence of ordinary life.

Meet the Author

Reynolds Price (1933-2011) was born in Macon, North Carolina. Educated at Duke University and, as a Rhodes Scholar, at Merton College, Oxford University, he taught at Duke beginning in 1958 and was the James B. Duke Professor of English at the time of his death. His first short stories, and many later ones, are published in his Collected Stories. A Long and Happy Life was published in 1962 and won the William Faulkner Award for a best first novel. Kate Vaiden was published in 1986 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Good Priest's Son in 2005 was his fourteenth novel. Among his thirty-seven volumes are further collections of fiction, poetry, plays, essays, and translations. Price is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and his work has been translated into seventeen languages.

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Roxanna Slade 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
jk52 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. One of my VERY favorites.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago