Serpent's Gift

Overview

One of the most striking and heartening developments in American letters in recent years has been the flowering and attendant celebration of African-American writers and of books that have introduced to readers everywhere people, situations, and events that have, hitherto, largely been ignored, denied, or unknown. Now comes Helen Elaine Lee's supremely assured The Serpent's Gift, a first novel that gives to us — with the fullest emotional resonance, humor, and exultation in the novelist's art — the intertwined ...

See more details below
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (45) from $1.99   
  • New (9) from $7.66   
  • Used (36) from $1.99   
Sending request ...

Overview

One of the most striking and heartening developments in American letters in recent years has been the flowering and attendant celebration of African-American writers and of books that have introduced to readers everywhere people, situations, and events that have, hitherto, largely been ignored, denied, or unknown. Now comes Helen Elaine Lee's supremely assured The Serpent's Gift, a first novel that gives to us — with the fullest emotional resonance, humor, and exultation in the novelist's art — the intertwined stories of two families from early in this century to our own times.
Central to this haunting (and sometimes haunted) novel are the mothers, a study in contrast in strength and rigidity, Ruby Staples and Eula Smalls, and their children: LaRue Smalls, adventurer, storyteller, and chronicler of his people; his sister Vesta, intimidated by life from an early age, yet determined, valiant even, to hold her disparate family together; and Ouida Staples, a rare beauty who elects, in the face of convention, to spend her life with another woman. Each will face trials and challenges and sometimes be transformed, shedding like the serpent, an old skin, reborn by the art of invention.
From its opening pages, which recount in eerily compelling detail, the death that will bring these people together, to its almost pastoral conclusion, The Serpent's Gift creates a world that is both realistic in its detail and lyrical in its presentation — it is a superb, triumphant debut.

A lyrical, multigenerational story about two African-American families, written by a writer who captivates in the tradition of Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor. Tracing the lives of the highly memorable matriarchs of the Staples and Smalls families over nearly a century, Lee creates a world that is starkly real and magically haunting.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Paule Marshall For her debut as a fiction writer, Helen Elaine Lee has written a tour de force of a novel about two African-American families whose lives, loves, struggles, and joys span an entire century. The Serpent's Gift is an ambitious saga, written with the skill of someone born to the art of storytelling.

Thulani Davis Readers will welcome this brilliant new voice who comes into full bloom in her first novel. The carefully drawn images and richly explored emotions linger long after you close The Serpent's Gift.

Reynolds Price Helen Elaine Lee's The Serpent's Gift is packed with interesting lives, all generously observed and weighed through their long entwined decades. The richness and breadth of her attention and the fair depth of her sympathy would be exemplary in a writer's tenth or twelfth book; coming as they do in a first novel, they constitute a genuine wonder.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In her impressive debut novel, Lee uses strong, vivid language and fine dialogue to chronicle the lives of members of two Midwestern African American families from the early days of the century to the present. Eula Smalls, her son LaRue and her daughter Vesta move in with Polaris and Ruby Staples, and their daughter Ouida, after Eula's husband dies in an accident. The families merge, with Ruby becoming second mother to the sensitive LaRue, who invents tales that charm the family. Vesta and Ouida become like sisters. Polaris, a kind and loving family man, submerges his pride to keep his job. Later, Ouida takes up with a woman and LaRue becomes a writer of folk stories and oral history. Ruby dies giving birth to Dessie, who grows up to yearn for middle-class life. Often suffering, always strong, the families survive wars, poverty and bigotry. Laced with LaRue's charming tales and a fine historical overview, Lee's novel delivers consistently entertaining characters in an engaging story. Apr.
Library Journal
After the death of Ontario Smalls, two African American families, the Smalls and the Staples, join to become a single family of contrasts. Their story begins in 1910 and continues to the present, full of layers of history. The characters respond to unfortunate circumstances sifferently. Evla Smalls and her daughter, Vesta, both isolate themselves from possible further pain while LaRue Smalls and Oviba Staples take after Oviba's mother, Ruby, and learn to deal with pain through storytelling and community. In this much-above-average first novel, Lee has portrayed both pain and happiness and woven together incredibly imaginative stories. Born and raised in Detroit and educated at Harvard College and Harvard Law School, she has a storyteller's sure touch that transcends real life while staying firmly rooted in the African American experience. Parts of the book were published as the short story ``Silences'' in Callaloo in 1990. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.-- Marie F. Jones, Muskingum Coll. Lib., New Concord, Ohio
School Library Journal
YA-This lyrical first novel strikes a chord that resonates across nearly 10 decades as Lee traces the struggles of two African American families, the Smalls and the Staples. When LaRue Smalls, storytelling son of one of the two matriarchs whose fortunes dominate the narrative, speaks, his folktales create a blues for his people. Equally convincing is the tension that interlocks the families from the early pages of the book through the denouement. The sisterhood of the two mothers-and later of their daughters-provides a coherence that carries readers through the richly varied chapters. Lee's skill with language is extraordinary; she notices so much and records her observations with exquisite precision. Exploring the territory of Southern black novelists who have gone before her, she captures the cadences of the region, creating profound sympathy for the people about whom she writes. Surely readers will look forward to future novels from this talented author. Although the language is straightforward and highly readable, various relationships among characters do require maturity.-Margaret Nolan, W.T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
From Barnes & Noble
The intertwined stories of two African-American families whose lives, loves, & struggles span an entire century & whose strength is rooted in two mothers, Ruby Staples & Eula Smalls. "...packed with interesting lives...a genuine wonder."--Reynolds Price.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684801605
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 10/1/1995
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 0.86 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Helen Elaine Lee was born and grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and was educated at Harvard College and Harvard Law School. She teaches in the Program in Writing and Humanities Studies at M.I.T. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)