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Set during the tense days of the Oklahoma oil rush, Rilla Askew's Fire in Beulah is a mesmerizing story that centers on the complex relationship between Althea Whiteside, an oil wildcatter's high-strung wife, and Graceful, her enigmatic black maid. Their juxtaposing stories--and those of others close to them--unfold against a volatile backdrop of oil-boom opulence, fear, hatred, lynchings that climax in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, when whites burned the city's properous black community. Askew's award-winning first novel, The Mercy Seat, was praised for its astute diepiction of family bonds and the beauty of American landscape. Now she explores the American race story with the same perception.
Askews heroine already has enough on her hands when she learns that her devout father has been arrested for helping to shelter undocumented Mexican workers, a felony in Oklahoma. Pen/Faulkner Award and Dublin IMPAC Prize nominee Askew moves from the rigorous lyricism of works like Harpsong to a larger arena.
On the dusty Oklahoma frontier, a fierce young girl known as Mattie tries to hold her family together. Her uncle Fayette, a ruthless schemer, aims to profit by her father John's extraordinary gifts as a gunsmith. But John flatly refuses to repeat the crime that drove them from their beloved home in Kentucky. Their struggle plays itself out against a backdrop of mule thieves and traveling preachers, scarlet fever and native Americans spirits, pioneer grit and pioneer greed. Through one extraordinary family, The mercy Seat tells the story of the passionate and ambitious people that settle the West and changed it forever.
Few first novels garner the kind of powerful praise awarded this epic story that takes place on the dusty, remorseless Oklahoma frontier, where two brothers are deadlocked in a furious rivalry. Fayette is an enterprising schemer hoping to cash in on his brother's talents as a gunsmith. John, determined not to repeat the crime that forced both families to flee their Kentucky homes, doggedly follows his tenacious brother west, while he watches his own family disintegrate. Wondrously told through the wary eyes of John's ten-year-old daughter, Mattie, whose gift of premonition proves to be both a blessing and a curse, The Mercy Seat resounds with the rhythms of the Old Testament even as it explores the mysteries of the Native American spirit world. Sharing Faulkner's understanding of the inescapable pull of family and history, and Cormac McCarthy's appreciation of the stark beauty of the American wilderness, Rilla Askew imbues this momentous work with her tremendous energy and emotional range. It is an extraordinary novel from a prodigious new talent. Strange Business, a collection of linked stories that won the 1993 Oklahoma Book Award, is available from Penguin. .
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