Visible Spirits (2001)

by Steve Yarbrough

Two brothers oppose each other over the black postmistress of their Southern town in 1902. Leighton, the mayor and newspaper publisher, wants to live and let live, acting as a force for moderation. Tandy is a wandering ne'er-do-well who has returned after a checkered career as a gambler.

"Visible Spirits" (Polish)

 He invents a crisis concerning the postmistress, stirring up the fear and race hatred that has always simmered just under the surface. Steve Yarbrough depicts a South that is terribly scarred by the specter of racism. The whites have given up their humanity in order to keep the blacks down, and the blacks have lost some of their dignity within this oppressive society. As Yarbrough reveals more of the brothers' past, the tangle of hypocrisy that connects the lives of blacks and whites is powerfully depicted.


Steve Yarbrough

These are the most affecting parts of the novel. 
However, Yarbrough does not make the mistake of presenting the plight of black Americans as merely a backdrop for a drama about white guilt. He writes convincingly from the perspective of several black characters and presents them as fully rounded individuals. I felt that the end was anti-climactic; events built to a head but the explosive climax I expected was rather truncated, followed by a brief coda in which the fates of several characters were summarized rather than dramatized. Nevertheless, this was a deeply affecting novel that provides a window into the history of race relations in the South.


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