Provinces of Night

William Gay, Author Doubleday Books $23.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-49927-9
Like one of Wallace Stevens's best-known poems, Gay's (The Long Home) second novel begins with a jar on a hill in TennesseeDonly this one appears to contain tiny human bones. That's a suitably ominous prelude to the dark saga of the Bloodworth clan, which revolves mostly around 17-year-old Fleming, an aspiring writer trying to evade the family legacy of violence and self-destruction. It is 1952 and his father, Boyd, has left their decrepit mountain home ""seventy miles back of Nashville"" for Detroit, not to work in an automobile factory like the other ""hillbillies"" but to search forDand killDthe peddler who has run off with his wife. Meanwhile, Fleming's grandfather, E.F. Bloodworth, a blues musician, is on his way home after having suffered a ""stroke of paralysis"" 20 years earlier. His handsome Uncle Warren, a former war hero now at loose ends, is a dissipated womanizer with an even more dissolute and unstable son, and his Uncle Brady ""witches"" for water, tells fortunes and casts hexes on those who do him wrong. Even as the Tennessee Valley Authority is moving in to clear and flood their valley and bring in ""the electricity,"" Fleming's relatives and neighbors live by the backwoods code of violence exemplified by E.F., a man whose exploits are legendary among the locals. Only Raven Lee Halfacre, the 16-year-old daughter of a promiscuous alcoholic and the ""prettiest girl in a three county area,"" offers the boy a glimpse of another way of life. Fleming's name echoes that of one of Faulkner's most memorable characters, and Gay's prose resembles that of Faulkner at his most florid. His stylistic quirksDespecially his refusal to set off dialogue with quotation marksDtake some getting used to, but the pitch-perfect rendition of the cadences of Southern speech and deeply poetic descriptions of the landscape more than compensate. (Dec. 26)
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
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