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Jesus in the Mist


Paul Ruffin

Publication Year: 2012

"Mister, most stories about people are sad. The ones about animals sometimes turn out all right, but not them about people," muses a character in master storyteller Paul Ruffin's yarn of obsession and quest "In Search of the Tightrope Walker." Raging against this fated sadness—and often against a deadening and inescapable status quo—the characters in Ruffin's newest collection, Jesus in the Mist, populate an imaginative vision of the hardscrabble Deep South where history, culture, and expectations are set firmly against them. Like Flannery O'Connor before him, Ruffin views the South as dark with humor and rife with violence. He writes of places and times where religion, race, class, sex, abuse, poverty, mythology, and morbidity coalesce to expose humanity at its basest and its most redeeming. Peppered with the vivid dialogue, colorful descriptions, and idiosyncratic comedy that define Ruffin's work, this volume is divided into two sections: the first group of stories addresses complexities of relationships between men and women, and the second recounts episodes of initiation in which characters grapple with divided loyalties. Collectively these stories paint a panoramic view of Southern culture as dynamic characters take a stab at their destinies—and sometimes at each other. Whether they are facing the visage of Christ in a motel bathroom mirror, blasting a murder of crows with military-grade artillery, outrunning a mythical beast through moonlit woods, or taking an armed stance against integration at a gas station water fountain, many of Ruffin's characters are zealots on the edge of reason. Here confidence men, thugs, and rednecks push their agendas on unsuspecting audiences. But there are those as well who search for a lost childhood love, exorcise a sexual predator from the home, return to a discarded life, and spare a man's life when no one would be the wiser. These individuals long for restoration, redemption, and righteousness. Both populations come together in Ruffin's South, where madness and faith hold equal sway and no amount of sadness can keep yearned-for possibilities from still being perceived as attainable.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5

Dedication Page

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pp. 6-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

Part I

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When Momma Came Home for Christmas and Talmidge Quoted Frost

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pp. 3-13

“Talmidge,” she said across the living room to her husband, who was stretched out on the couch with his camouflage clothes still on from a deer hunt earlier that Saturday morning—it wasn’t quite eleven. He was in his socked feet, muddy boots just outside the kitchen door, where she asked that he always leave them. ...

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Harvey Watson and the Angel

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pp. 14-20

Harvey Watson, last week laid to his rest with much pomp after a bout of circumstance, was one of the seven in ten Americans who in a recent survey conducted in something resembling a scientific poll professed to believe in angels. ...

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The Queen

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pp. 21-34

Many a year Earl McManus stood and watched a ship he had had a hand in building slide down the ramp at the little shipyard he worked at in Pascagoula, splash into saltwater for the first time, rock gently, steady itself, and then move smoothly out to the Gulf for a trial run and then to wherever it was headed. ...

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Jesus in the Mist

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pp. 35-57

The night I found him, I might not of, except that I had been on the road so long looking, nearly three months—like it had become some sort of quest for me, almost religious—that I sensed it was him even before I had waded through the crowd of whispering and mumbling onlookers that gathered around his truck, ...

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In Search of the Tightrope Walker

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pp. 58-72

On the rutted road, with cotton plants growing right up to and leaning out over the edges so that a man walking down it with his hands outstretched, as if trying to balance, might almost touch them on either side, the car sat idling a few feet from the mailbox that marked the end of a driveway. ...

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Teaching Her about Catfish

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pp. 73-79

To her, he is reasonably certain, he is a man of mystery and imponderable depths, and to him she is a lovely young wife, a former student of his, with still much to be taught, so on a sultry July morning they roll free of each other and before the sun has moved its blade of brightness another inch across the bed, ...

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The Natural Man

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pp. 80-96

What awoke Dottie that morning was not the usual growling and clanging of the garbage truck emptying the dumpster down the street but the marvelous music of a man peeing in her commode. ...

Part II

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The Well

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pp. 99-114

The brassy hot fields of September were at our backs as my grandfather and I stood at the well dipping cool water from a rust-stained galvanized bucket that had just come up from the silver-dollar-size circle of water at the bottom. The surface still danced. ...

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Time of the Panther

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pp. 115-131

His face contorted by a euphoric grin, the grandfather got into the truck and said simply, “He’s back.” He said nothing more, did not have to, as they drove the five miles or so back to the farm. He drove and smiled, his eyes on the woods flanking the gravel road as often as he dared direct them there. ...

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J.P. and the Water Tower

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pp. 132-143

“So Daddy told’m,” J.P. said, flicking a long ash from his cigarette after nursing it until it seemed to be held up by air and made us nervous to look at, “that we’d paint that water tower and do it for a helluva lot less than they could get anybody else to do it.” ...

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The Day J.P. Saved the South

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pp. 144-160

On a Monday morning in 1962, the fall James Meredith brought Mississippi to the point of mania by enrolling at Ole Miss, we sprawled on the high shoulder of Highway 45 North just outside Columbus and watched the federalized National Guard units heading toward Oxford: ...

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The Hands of John Merchant

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pp. 161-167

Any time I’m back over that way—which is not often, since I’ve come back to Texas, where I should have been all along—I drive along the beach road and look out over the Gulf toward the islands, which, when the sun is high enough, give off a little glare so that you can tell exactly where they are without actually seeing them. ...

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pp. 168-178

I grew up hating crows. I can’t explain it for sure, but anytime I saw those glossy black bastards, my blood picked up temperature and speed and I hurried home to get a rifle or shotgun and nail as many as I could before they got out of range. For a fact, if one settled anywhere on my father’s property, small as it was, ...

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pp. 179-198

The three Indian hunters, two barely teens, one much older, stood quietly on the slope of a hill leading down onto the plain and studied at some distance the scene before them. Far across a rolling stretch of grass a wagon sat near the mouth of a wooded draw formed over millennia by water cutting down from the plateau behind it, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781611171204
Print-ISBN-13: 9781570036996

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Short stories, American.
  • Southern States -- Fiction.
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