Roxanna Slade (1998)

by Reynolds Price

This is the second book in which Reynolds Price speaks convincingly in a woman’s voice. The first, Kate Vaiden (1986), won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In Roxanna Slade, Price again creates a memorable character — direct, unsentimental, and no-nonsense.

Roxanna Slade tells her life story from the vantage point of her 90s. She was born with the 20th century in small-town North Carolina and never moves far; the story of the modern South and the legacy of slavery parallel Roxanna’s own tale. Roxanna thinks her life has been ordinary, like most people’s: “Very few human beings of any sex or background are called to anything grander than dinner.” Only five or ten moments matter in most any one life, she says, and she sets out to speak honestly about her significant moments.

Roxanna begins her story on her 20th birthday, when she met, fell in love with, and watched a young man drown within the space of an afternoon. Then she married his older brother. She coped with an intimidating mother-in-law, her husband’s infidelity with a black woman, the loss of an infant, years-long debilitating depression, her husband’s premature death, and the discovery that he fathered a daughter with the other woman. Despite all this, Roxanna Slade is an uplifting book. Roxanna believes her life has had purpose in loving her family members, in her belief in God and an afterlife (though she doesn’t hold much by any church), in the living itself.

Loss of loved ones, illness, marital stresses: Roxanna observes that what happened to her happens to everyone. But her manner of speaking and observations aren’t ordinary. In Roxanna Slade, Reynolds Price has given readers an extraordinary companion.


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