Ginny Gall: A Novel
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A sweeping, eerily resonant epic of race and violence in the Jim Crow South: a lyrical and emotionally devastating masterpiece from Charlie Smith, whom the New York Public Library has said “may be America’s most bewitching stylist alive.”
Delvin Walker is just a boy when his mother flees their home in the Red Row section of Chattanooga, accused of killing a white man. Taken in by Cornelius Oliver, proprietor of the town’s leading Negro funeral home, he discovers the art of caring for the aggrieved, the promise of transcendence in the written word, and a rare peace in a hostile world. Yet tragedy visits them near daily, and after a series of devastating events—a lynching, a church burning—Delvin fears being accused of murdering a local white boy and leaves town.
Haunted by his mother’s disappearance, Delvin rides the rails, meets fellow travelers, falls in love, and sees an America sliding into the Great Depression. But before his hopes for life and love can be realized, he and a group of other young men are falsely charged with the rape of two white women, and shackled to a system of enslavement masquerading as justice. As he is pushed deeper into the darkness of imprisonment, his resolve to escape burns only more brightly, until in a last spasm of flight, in a white heat of terror, he is called to choose his fate.
In language both intimate and lyrical, novelist and poet Charlie Smith conjures a fresh and complex portrait of the South of the 1920s and ’30s in all its brutal humanity—and the astonishing endurance of one battered young man, his consciousness “an accumulation of breached and disordered living . . . hopes packed hard into sprung joints,” who lives past and through it all.
the packet of letters beside him on the wall. A small stack, creased and worn already. He leaned down and kissed them and then he got up and walked away. “I believe I will be shoving off in the morning,” he told Mr. Oliver. In the old man’s face was a mix of sadness and relief. The relief outweighed the sadness. It hurt Delvin to see it. Mr. Oliver put his heavy, knobby hand on his. He was wearing a new ring, a chunky gold ring with a crest on it. Delvin started to ask about it, but just then
men, the beat down and humbled—and the beat and unhumbled—the working men whose particular plight he was touched by and whose coming rise he believed in or at least hoped for as most favorable to his own needs, a sometime house lawyer for the WOW and the Daily Worker. People down here looked at him as if they thought he might any minute burst into flames. “I caught up with him in the fight that ensued,” Delvin said evenly. “Okay, fellows,” Harris said. Three of the men or boys had started
wiped off with a cloth, smell the barley soap and the shelled butterbeans and the okra she itched from and he could smell under these other, unplotted mysteries, deeper reeks and perfumes. He contorted his body until he could put his nose close to her lower back and he inhaled the rich odor of her woman smell and sniffed all the way to her girl smell, even, so it seemed, to her original baby smell, a faint residue of it like a thin sprinkling of garden rain. With his scarred knees he drove her
sat on the side porch watching a thunderstorm come in over the mountains. Mr. Oliver had ridden the train from Alabama to this place and made a life out of nothing but his clever self and hard work. And now he was sleeping his way toward death on an old christian lady’s porch. Well, all right. On the Gulf shore he had walked into the ocean and stood up to his waist in salt water that had never been swum in by africano people. Only africano ones ever in it were those bodies swabbies had rolled off
what was he, standing at the end of a leafy alley in Chattanooga, Tennessee? His hands were still attached, his face uncut, his side unburnt. But for how long? How easy it was to step off into ruin. He wanted to slip into the crowd and stay there in its midst, jostling and petting and sliding body to body, smelling and tasting and touching. And he wanted to haul off by himself, crawl up under a bush and roll into a ball like a possum, sink down into a musty hole like a gopher, hide deep in the