Kaye Gibbons | Critical Review by Deanna D'Errico

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Kaye Gibbons.
This section contains 831 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Deanna D'Errico

Critical Review by Deanna D'Errico

SOURCE: "Two Timers," in Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women, Vol. 4, No. 4, Summer, 1989, p. 7.

In the following excerpt, D'Errico favorably assesses A Virtuous Woman, but faults Gibbons's use of multiple narrators in the final chapter as an instance of technique overpowering content.

Her slim, elegant first novel, Ellen Foster, displayed Kaye Gibbons's formidable talent for rendering first-person internal monologue, shifting time frames, and "southern" dialect, breathing life into a character and a tale that are unforgettable. A Virtuous Woman, her second novel, has many of the same characteristics. The story is told through alternating internal monologues from the past and present by Blinking Jack Ernest Stokes ("stokes the fire, stokes the stove, stokes the fiery furnace of hell!") and his wife, Ruby Pitt Woodrow Stokes, who has died of lung cancer at the outset of the novel.

As in Ellen Foster, the first-person storytelling technique brings even dead characters strangely to life; their words, feelings, and deeds hover in the forefront of the reader's consciousness. Ruby is gone, but her presence pervades the pages, just as it pervades Jack's lone existence. It takes the complete novel for Jack to eat "to the bottom of the deep freeze" that Ruby thoughtfully stocked before dying. There is no plot per se; the story is an ode to Ruby, the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:10-25: "A virtuous woman who can find? / For her price is far above rubies. / The heart of her husband trusteth in her, / And he shall have no lack of gain."

An Excerpt from Charms for the Easy Life

Already by her twentieth birthday, my grandmother was an excellent midwife, in great demand. Her black bag bulged with mysteries in vials. This occupation led her to my grandfather, whose job was operating a rope-and-barge ferry that traveled across the Pasquotank River. A heavy cable ran from shore to shore, and he pulled the cable and thus the barge carrying people, animals, everything in the world, across the river. My grandmother was a frequent passenger, going back and forth over the river to catch babies, nurse the sick, and care for the dead as well. I hear him singing as he pulls her barge. At first it may have annoyed her, but soon it was a sound she couldn't live without. She may have made up reasons to cross the river so she could hear him and see him. Think of a man content enough with quiet nights to work a river alone. Think of a man content to bathe in a river and drink from it, too. As for what he saw when he looked at my grandmother, if she looked anything like my mother's high school graduation photograph, she was dazzling, her green eyes glancing from his to the water to the shore. Between my grandmother, her green eyes and mound of black hair, and the big-cookie moon low over the Pasquotank, it must have been all my grandfather could do to deposit her on the other side of the river. Imagine what he felt when she told him her name was Clarissa Kate but she insisted on being called Charlie Kate. She probably told him that Clarissa was a spineless name.

Kaye Gibbons, in her Charms for the Easy Life, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1993.

Finally, however, it is the story of how Jack, who has only contempt for the afterlife described in the Bible, gets on with life after Ruby.

I'm finally at the point, past the point, where I can say this and mean it and not have to worry over somebody saying to eat my hat. I'm sick of being myself, sick of myself, sick all the way around of looking around and not seeing a damn thing but the four walls and my old ugly self looking back out of dirty, smeared up mirrors. Ruby'd be ashamed. This place looks like the pigs slept in it, and I walk around all day looking like the witches rode me all night, raggedy, messy. I know it but I haven't been able to do anything about it. You just can't expect a man to take and do without a woman when he's done with one long as I did.

The story, which is a pleasure to read, evokes subtly and lovingly the bond that has united Jack and Ruby through life and beyond. I only wish the novel had ended with Jack lying on the sheets he has sprinkled with Ruby's "smelly-good powders," hoping poignantly that Ruby's ghost will be enticed into appearing. Instead, the final chapter shifts disconcertingly to the third person, punctuated with the first-person thoughts of not only Jack but also of characters whose heads we have hitherto not been inside. These outbursts seem as inappropriate as using a dash when a simple comma would do. Technique suddenly looms over the tale, and it is difficult to view the scene without fretting over the strings that are showing.

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This section contains 831 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Deanna D'Errico
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