Provinces Of Night

Written by William Gay
Review by Marcia K. Matthews

You know you’re in the hands of a master by the way he uses his tools: details, vocabulary, verbs. They all add up to a craftsmanlike work of art that you savor and hope you can trust as the zany characters veer out of control.

William Gay uses a stripped-down style: sentence fragments, no quotation marks. He gives characters colorful names like Raven Lee Halfacre, and entrusts several with revolving points of view. His rich description and witty dialog evoke Tennessee in 1952.

Boyd and his son Fleming and Boyd’s younger brother Brady prepare for the return of the patriarch, E.F. Bloodworth. Con-artist and musician, Bloodworth wangles a ride with a cattle rancher, who later exacts revenge. Boyd goes to Detroit to kill the man with whom his wife ran off. Fleming’s friend Albright, a fool always looking to make a buck, paints a car yellow and calls it a taxi. The theme is that in a violent world, love is a negation of death. Fleming loves Raven even though his wild cousin Neal used and abandoned her. He sees beauty in fireflies: “a moving river of light that flowed above the dark water…and attained a transient and fragile dominion over the provinces of night.” As Bloodworth puts it, “Death, you’ll sleep at the foot of the bed tonight.”