Against Her Mother or God Himself

March 16, 2019 § Leave a comment

Last August, at Bread Loaf, I was privileged to share a workshop with Kelli Jo Ford, a writer of sharp-edged prose about Cherokee women and families. And I got to read a portion of her novel-in-stories, Crooked Hallelujah, about a family of hard-bitten women in Oklahoma and Texas and the men who love them and let them down, balancing the older generations’ connection to things earth-bestowed against the youngers’ comfort with modern America’s blighting institutions. It’s all written in the snappy language demanded of the exhausted and the fighting, where the sentences tumble over one another like a rolling plain and divert at unexpected places like rivers.  A story from that collection, “Book of the Generations,” was published last year in The Missouri Review:

Lula held herself something like together with a religion so stifling and frightening that Justine, the youngest and always the most bullheaded, never knew if she was fighting against her mother or God himself, or if there was even a difference. Still, her father was a betrayal of the knife-in-the-heart variety—something far beyond all their fighting—and here he was on a cool spring evening, right between them.

“He’s in Texas. Near Fort Worth,” Justine said. She bit her lip. “He asked me to go to Six Flags with him. Just for the weekend. He has a little boy now, I guess.”

She almost hoped Lula would hit her, but Lula stared into the hills. It wasn’t clear she had heard, so Justine’s mouth kept moving.

“Six Flags is an amusement park. With roller coasters. I know you might think it’s too worldly, but I can wear a long skirt on the rides and all. It’s sort of like a big old playground!” Justine forced a smile. She pushed a strand of hair back into her bun, waited. “I’m sorry, Mama.”

And another story from that collection, “Hybrid Vigor,” was published in The Paris Review earlier this year and was just awarded the Plimpton Prize (a merit that earned the attention of Lyle Lovett). This is going to be a sensational book, raw and honest and riveting, and important.

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