cover image Night People

Night People

Barry Gifford. Grove/Atlantic, $18.95 (190pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1538-6

Gifford (Wild at Heart) never shies away from confrontational fiction even when it strains credulity. Yet these four well-wrought, linked novellas, all dealing with struggle and violence--particularly violence toward women--and all set in dark corners of the South, all have the stamp of truth. Big Betty Stalcup and Miss Cutie Early, two lesbian ex-convicts, preach the gospel of Miss Jesus our Holy Mother as they search for one redeemable man--and leave in their wake the severed heads of the irredeemable. Beatifica Brown, a devout abortionist, is visited by the spirit of abolitionist John Brown, who counsels her to adopt his methods in fighting the anti-abortion zealots of Louisiana. Dallas and Dilys Salt, brother and sister rival evangelists and the parents of a 14-year-old with Down's syndrome, preach their respectively pro-life and pro-choice messages from the pulpits of the Church on the One Hand and the Church on the Other Hand. Fourteen-year-old Marble Lesson, who survives a bus wreck and an attempted rape, defines her philosophy in letters to Jesus. Gifford delights in improbable names: this volume is filled with characters known as the brothers Mano and Boca Demente, and places dubbed Egypt City, Fla., and Checkerboard Chucky's Change of Heart Bar. He writes with clarity and great economy, imbuing these weird and unsavory vignettes with an engaging lyricism. And the ever-present black humor buoys the narrative without trivializing either the characters or their plights. (Oct.)