Visible Spirits

Visible Spirits

2.0 1
by Steve Yarbrough

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"The Mississippi Delta, fabled "South of the South," is replete with plantations carved from the wilderness, rich soil and King Cotton, with field chants and blues laments, violence and tragedy. In this austerely beautiful landscape, by 1902, Reconstruction is being encroached upon by Jim Crow. And in the town of Loring, the tenure of a black postmistress is… See more details below


"The Mississippi Delta, fabled "South of the South," is replete with plantations carved from the wilderness, rich soil and King Cotton, with field chants and blues laments, violence and tragedy. In this austerely beautiful landscape, by 1902, Reconstruction is being encroached upon by Jim Crow. And in the town of Loring, the tenure of a black postmistress is compromised when the prodigal son of a once mighty planting family returns home. A gambler run out of luck and a great many venues, he finds his diminished prospects as unappealing as the political moderation of his brother, now both mayor and editor of the newspaper. Their fraternal tension quickly spreads through the countryside - some citizens striving for the better world ostensibly promised, others for the vestigial antebellum order. Caught squarely in the center of this tortured dynamic is the postmistress herself, her fate further complicated when President Roosevelt, on federal grounds, intervenes personally." "And so this local, even familial dispute inevitably erupts, fueled by all the dark, brutal memories of slavery, civil war and emancipation. In this crucible of race relations and mythology, people black and white alike are tested relentlessly by history and human nature, by passions at once ambivalent and fierce."--BOOK JACKET.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
HThe South depicted in Steve Yarbrough's haunting new novel irresistibly calls to mind Yeats's famous lines, "the best lack all conviction, while the worst/ are full of passionate intensity." The best and worst, in this case, are brothers who, despite their common upbringing, are diametrically opposed on issues of race. Tandy Payne, who returns to Loring, Miss., in the early 20th century after squandering his inheritance on gambling, whores and liquor, has absorbed all the hypocrisy and racism of the old South. Loring's mayor, Tandy's brother, Leighton, stands 6'5", harbors liberal opinions and is handicapped by a perpetual awkwardness. He runs Loring's newspaper and uses it as a platform for moderation. Yarbrough divides his story between the Payne siblings and Seaborn and Loda Jackson, who are black. Loda is the town's postmistress, the only African-American in the state with a government appointment. Tandy covets her job, and he decides to steal it by starting a race-baiting campaign, claiming Loda encouraged a black laborer to behave insolently. To prevent conflict, Loda resigns, but Theodore Roosevelt's administration decides to make a civil rights stand by not accepting her resignation. In the escalating dispute, Leighton becomes a pariah for siding with Loda. Connecting Loda, Tandy and Leighton is their common father, Sam, a plantation owner who massacred a group of black men and women who tried to escape the Delta in the 1880s. Based on a real 1902 incident, Yarborough's sad, elegantly wrought story proceeds like a mesmerizing lesson in the skewed logic of violence, and it builds to a powerful ending, a tragic testament to the dark heritage haunting the South. Yarbrough, who earned critical kudos with The Oxygen Man, has again written a novel that resonates with understanding and compassion. (May 7) Forecast: While his subject matter is somber, Yarbrough's restrained narrative pulls the reader into its time and place with beautifully calibrated suspense. Critical recognition that he's a writer to watch should bring attention to this novel. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Reading these loosely connected short narratives is like reading the metaphysical poets in fictional form. Alvarez renders complex emotions in the oddest concrete objects and incidents, finding unambiguous desire, for instance, in the smell of scrambled eggs and gun oil. Set mostly in gay experience, these fresh, artfully crafted tales touch on recognizable themesallure, anxiety, redemption, prejudice, and lossthat shiver to life under the author's masterly touch. Alvarez gives body to the flutters of human essence in spare prose, strung mainly around the characters of Mark and Dean. His monsters often succumb to angels in disguise, as when musician Mark's audiotape of his soul rouses his mother's beleaguered spirit, cutting into her reluctance to listen to what he needs to tell her about his life. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries, and gay literature collections.Roger Durbin, Univ. of Akron, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A competent if slightly flat instance of classic southern gothic, set in shabbily reconstructed Loring, Mississippi, during1902, as the federal government appoints a "colored" woman postmistress. The genre promises buried legacies, burdens of guilt, and a handful of cruel maulings, and Yarbrough's compact second novel (after The Oxygen Man, 1999, etc.) easily satisfies these programmatic requirements (though a buried secret revealed near the close proves decidedly unsurprising). Loda Jackson, a college-educated woman whose sophistication distinguishes her from many in Loring, takes up her role in the post office just as Tandy Payne shambles his way back into town. Tandy is a gambler, smooth talker, and overall failure who returns home only to meet up again with his brother Leighton, Loring's mayor and newspaper editor whose unbroken string of modest achievements makes a shaming contrast with Tandy's failures. Tandy, Leighton, and Loda are linked in a past dominated by Sam Payne, father to the brothers and vicious slave owner whose possessions once included Loda's mother. Loda and her husband, Seaborn, an insurance company owner known as "the biggity nigger" for his stature and income, quickly become obvious targets of resentment for Tandy, who begins the simple task of stirring up trouble over her appointment. After he brutalizes a friend of Loda's, she submits her resignation, which is declined personally by President Theodore Roosevelt. This federal intervention spurs Tandy on in his newfound political career, and before long a black man is murdered. Leighton and Seaborn, the story's moral centers, are repeatedly thwarted in their efforts to keep the peace during a crisis that theauthor never really resolves. We simply meet Loda years later as she recalls the ghosts of her past; her decision to stay, we realize, was prompted by domestic and historical necessity more than courage. Few characters here get what they deserve in life, a characteristically southern insight Yarbrough delivers in fluid prose.
From the Publisher
“A powerful tale . . . a skillful interweaving of complicated relationships to family and history.” –The Washington Post Book World

“A compelling look at moral courage. . . . The place, events, and emotions are so authentic, it’s hard to believe the story is fiction.” –USA Today

“Invites comparison with Faulkner’s greatest novels.” –The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Perceptive, finely wrought . . . captures post-Reconstruction Mississippi, caught between the promise of progress and a lament for the antebellum order.” –Vogue

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Product Details

Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
5.95(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.15(d)

Read an Excerpt

In 1902, in a small community deep in the Mississippi Delta, nearly a generation after the end of slavery, events obscured by time but impossible to forgive or forget echo in the lives of blacks and whites alike. As bound together by history as they are separated by mutual distrust, the citizens of Loring face present tensions as they look toward an uncertain future.

Into this charged atmosphere rides Tandy Payne–prodigal son of a prominent planter and brother of the current mayor, and a dissolute gambler looking to reclaim the family estate. When he takes advantage of a perceived slight from the town’s black postmistress, the ensuing clash with his principled brother results in a harrowing confrontation. Fueled by dark and brutal memories, their familial dispute quickly spreads through the countryside. Steve Yarbrough confronts character with morality, reason with blood, in this moving novel that explores the farthest boundaries of human nature.

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