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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Jubal by Gary Penley (Pelican) “Dummy” is big. He is black. He doesn’t speak. To everybody in Linville , Mississippi , he’s a familiar sight, pulling his wagonload of laundry for his mother. What people remember most about him and his family is his father’s alleged murder of a white man during the flood of 1927.

Crossing racial lines and against codes of propriety for the well-respected Dunaway family, the children, Sarah and Lucas Dunaway, befriend Jubal Jefferson. When a fire breaks out in their home, Jubal “Dummy” Jefferson saves his friends’ lives but is accused of murder, forcing him to face his greatest fear and forcing a town to decide whether justice is blind and whether Jubal is really who they think he is.

Part elegy to small-town childhood, full of suspense, and written with a sensitivity and attention to detail that reveals the complexity of how we see and treat those who are different, Jubal is a gripping novel which holds echoes of classic works of Southern fiction, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

In Jubal, Gary Penley, retired geologist, integrates his disciplined writing style and his extensive travels in the South; the result is a concise yet poignant portrait of one man’s struggle within his community and against his greatest fear. Thus, Penley’s narrative bent captures his impression of the South as at once “beautiful, serene, violent, [and] unfathomable”.

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