Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ginny Gall - Charlie Smith

Ginny Gall is the latest work from prize winning author Charlie Smith.

The title? Ginny Gall is a word coined by 1920's and 1930's blacks meaning..."a suburb of Hell". And that's where Smith takes the reader to start - to the Jim Crow south in Tennessee.

The lead character is Delvin Walker born in Chattanooga in 1913 to a prostitute. He's left alone too soon as his mother flees, accused of killing a white man.  Smith takes the reader on Delvin's journey through life as he makes his way - first finding a home with the local black funeral director and then mirroring his mother as he too is accused of killing a white boy and flees Chattanooga. He rides the rails, exploring America, hoping for more, hoping for better. But it seems he can't outrun prejudice, inhumanity and injustice.

I loved Delvin's voice, his hopes and his thoughts. I wept at the fact that you could change the dates of the story and still post it under today's newspaper headlines.

Smith's prose reminded me of black strap molasses - richly coloured and glowing when the light shines through as it is poured. But also viscous and opaque when not moving. I had to put the book down a number of times and come back to it. The prose are beautiful and lyrical, but I found them overwhelming in large doses. Smith details every bit of the book, sometimes to the detriment of his protagonist and his message.

This one's going to be hard to rate - I think there's a very important message here, I think Smith's writing is beautiful and I liked the protagonist very much, but I just got bogged down in detail. Read an excerpt of Ginny Gall.

Charlie Smith, the author of seven novels and seven books of poetry, has won the Aga Khan Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the Paris Review, Harper's, the New Republic, the New York Times, the Nation, and many other magazines and journals. Three of his novels have been named New York Times Notable Books. He lives in New York City and Key West. See what others on the TLC book tour thought - full schedule can be found here.


bermudaonion said...

I've never heard that phrase before and thought Ginny Gall was a character. I like the sound of the story but have a feeling the details would bother me too.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I also struggled with the wordiness!

Vicki said...

I was all set to add this to my tbr list, but changed my mind when you said there are a lot of details. Thanks for mentioning that.

trish said...

The fact that times change but still stay the same is something that I find really interesting. Sometimes it seems like we've made so much progress, and sometimes it seems like we haven't made hardly any at all.