Title: GodPretty in the Tobacco Field
Author: Kim Michele Richardson
Genre: Literature/Fiction (Adult)
Release date: 26th April, 2016
“Nameless, Kentucky, in 1969 is a hardscrabble community where jobs are few and poverty is a simple fact—just like the hot Appalachian breeze or the pests that can wipe out a tobacco field in days. RubyLyn Bishop is luckier than some. Her God-fearing uncle, Gunnar, has a short fuse and high expectations, but he’s given her a good home ever since she was orphaned at the age of five. Yet now, a month shy of her sixteenth birthday, RubyLyn itches for more.
Maybe it’s something to do with the paper fortunetellers RubyLyn has been making for townsfolk, each covered with beautifully wrought, prophetic drawings. Or perhaps it’s because of Rainey Ford, an African-American neighbor who works alongside her in the tobacco field, and with whom she has a kinship, despite her uncle’s worrisome shadow and the town’s disapproval. RubyLyn’s predictions are just wishful thinking, not magic at all, but through them she’s imagining life as it could be, away from the prejudice and hardship that ripple through Nameless.
Atmospheric, poignant, and searingly honest, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field follows RubyLyn through the course of one blazing summer, as heartbreaking revelations and life-changing decisions propel her toward a future her fortunetellers never predicted.” (Kensington Books)
This is the second book I’ve read by Kim Michele Richardson and just as with her last book (Liar’s Bench, my review of that is here) I had an excellent time reading. This in particular was one of my favourite bits to read:
“Darla Clark came up behind me, pulling her wagon, her little boys folded inside asleep, the metal wheels clacking loudly on the concrete. She stopped beside me to pick up a dirty, stray S&H Green Stamp to add to the ones she’d been saving to trade a baby rocker for. Ducking, she muttered a greeting and cast a weary glance back, her white-skirted uniform stained, reeking of onions and grease. Widow Joan Marsh, sixty years old, bent and broke, dragged her splintered walking stick along the lot, tapping and talking to her two dead sons and husband all gone from another coal mishap and miner’s lung.”
I could see everything clearly in my mind as I read this book and it’s this that is probably my favourite thing about Richardson’s writing – that her words bring the characters and settings to life so vividly.
The town of Nameless, where GodPretty in the Tobacco Field is set, is one filled with the hopeful and the hopeless, and not many in between. RubyLyn Bishop is one of the former, and the narrative largely focuses on her ambition to leave Nameless behind and move to a city that is anything but nameless – Louisville. I really liked RubyLyn as a main character and being with her when she’s teetering on the edge of adulthood means that we see things through two lenses – the one of the naive child and the one of the young woman realising her naivety.
Through her we see the racial tension of the 60s, specifically in her relationship with Rainey Ford and how they need to act when they are in town together – he always walking a few paces behind her in case in case people get the wrong idea. For the most part, Rainey is treated relatively well by the people of nameless, but as expected there are those who don’t believe in equal rights and they treat Rainey accordingly. There is also a large focus on poverty in the novel and seeing the lengths that people would go to in order to put food on the table was quite heartbreaking. We see in the family of RubyLyn’s best friend, Henny Stump, a cycle of poverty that can go on for generations.
GodPretty in the Tobacco Field didn’t leave me as emotionally fraught as Liar’s Bench, which sent me on a complete roller coaster ride of emotions. GodPretty was more of a slow burn and it wasn’t until towards the end that it punched me in the gut. Don’t get me wrong – there were loads of pretty significant events throughout the book; but on looking at the story as a whole, the real significance of the events didn’t become apparent until the very end, when the full impact of them was felt.Probably the only downside to it for me was that things happened that I was kind of expecting to happen, but having said that there was enough about it that was unexpected to keep me invested in the plot.
This is another beautifully written coming of age story from Richards. If you like reading Southern Literature then you can’t really go wrong with this one. If you’re a crier like me though, just save the final chapters to read when you aren’t on public transport.