Worry Beads

Worry Beads

Worry Beads

Worry Beads

By Kay Sloan

From Publishers Weekly

Set in the small Mississippi town of Libertyburg, this quiet, richly evocative first novel follows the closely knit families of brothers Fred and Chester Bloomer and their wives, Winnie and Virginia, from 1942 until 1987. Chester’s movie camera, purchased in 1942, begins to capture important family events, and the author’s lyrical prose casts a spell over these milestones: the 1945 victory parade in downtown Libertyburg; a neighborhood costume party, with Virginia wearing a suggestive grass skirt; a family Christmas; vacations; and a wedding. But what is happening behind the masks of the participants? Sloan deftly delineates the concealed frustrations, rage and jealousy that lead to an affair between Virginia and Fred, and to Fred’s mounting depression. Somehow the camera is lost by Fred’s daughter (in an unintegrated yet electric episode) and Chester unwittingly misplaces the canister in which the movies are stored. When the film turns up 20 years later, faded, brittle, and shadowy, Chester gives it to his son-in-law, a Hollywood film editor, to restore, and plans are made to show it at the next family reunion. As the layers of deception are peeled away slowly, each family member must make a compromise with the past. This is a delicate, finely wrought effort.



Even the crickets have grown silent. A few fireflies flicker in the bank ahead of them, disappearing and then flashing again in unexpected places.

An explosion comes ringing out, like some giant firefly blowing itself up. Everything becomes bright in that second, the way lightning engraves things on the mind or a photograph snatches a second out of time. Sheridan sees the curled plank she is about to step on, even the grayed knot in the board. Ruby Ann’s arms fly up as if she is pleading to the sky. The cypress stumps in the river seem to rise up out of the darkness like part of a monster’s body half-submerged in the water. Then it is dark again, totally black, and Sheridan can’t see anything.

“Don’t shoot us.” It is Ruby Ann. Her voice is only a croak, but she keeps trying. “Don’t shoot.”

The voice comes from behind the light. “What you two gals doing out here? This ain’t no place for young kids.”

From the far side of the bridge, a flashlight beams into their faces, and Sheridan can’t see anything again through its blinding ray. Not even Ruby Ann. The bridge sways and groans beneath their feet as if someone has stepped on to it, and the light draws nearer. Before them stands a squat little man with a hat slouched over his eyes. A few wisps of gray hair lie matted against his neck. He looks them over, his head cocked to one side like a pigeon. An oily shirt hangs out of his pants – khaki, the color of river water. The fireflies crackle with a new electricity, as if they are sending out a desperate sign language to invisible angels.

“What do you want with me?” His eyes shine from beneath the hat like two raisins that have baked to the surface of an oatmeal cookie.

The hermitite! It wasn’t a magnificent being at all. Just an old man or woman who wanted solitude.

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