Moving through shades of darkness and light, Charlie Smith captures a refracted view of a disturbed, disintegrating world. Demo explores landscapes both natural and urban, probing the spaces where the two overlap. Its narrator is at once wanderer and witness, living among streets where flowers are covered with dust, and smells of Mexican food and Chinese cooking fill the air. The poet finds a resurgence of life in the ruins, reminding us once again “that we don’t really know what beauty is until we’ve looked hard at the horror that throws beauty into bright relief” (New York Times). In Demo, Smith conveys a kinetic expression of hope that transcends human vagaries and machinations.
From “After the Wind Died Down”
I say these things
in gratitude, moved by the old blistering
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Cot has forty-eight hours to return the emeralds before items of equal or greater value—namely, the lives of everyone he loves—are repossessed by Albertson and his army of hired gunmen. Fleeing across the Caribbean, Cot blazes a trail of survival, skeltering between the narrowing walls of fate.
Charlie Smith has been called a novelist of "appalling brilliance" on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. Critics have praised his work with the fervor of converts. And his prose, as radiant and dynamic as it has ever been, "lands him in the ranks of America's greatest contemporary fiction writers" (Houston Chronicle).
“Smith is not only a spectacular stylist but also a visionary.” —Washington Post Book World
From Charlie Smith (Cheap Ticket to Heaven, Chimney Rock, Shine Hawk), author of three New York Times Notable Books and a literary stylist whose “writing can make the mountains ring" (New York Times Book Review), comes his first novel in more than a decade, Three Delays, which follows the troubled lives of two lovers as they combat their passions and each other. In the words of James Dickey, "Writers after Charlie Smith will have to take him into account, but I doubt if any will equal or surpass him."
Delvin Walker is just a boy when his mother flees their home in the Red Row section of Chattanooga, accused of killing a white man. Taken in by Cornelius Oliver, proprietor of the town’s leading Negro funeral home, he discovers the art of caring for the aggrieved, the promise of transcendence in the written word, and a rare peace in a hostile world. Yet tragedy visits them near daily, and after a series of devastating events—a lynching, a church burning—Delvin fears being accused of murdering a local white boy and leaves town.
Haunted by his mother’s disappearance, Delvin rides the rails, meets fellow travelers, falls in love, and sees an America sliding into the Great Depression. But before his hopes for life and love can be realized, he and a group of other young men are falsely charged with the rape of two white women, and shackled to a system of enslavement masquerading as justice. As he is pushed deeper into the darkness of imprisonment, his resolve to escape burns only more brightly, until in a last spasm of flight, in a white heat of terror, he is called to choose his fate.
In language both intimate and lyrical, novelist and poet Charlie Smith conjures a fresh and complex portrait of the South of the 1920s and ’30s in all its brutal humanity—and the astonishing endurance of one battered young man, his consciousness “an accumulation of breached and disordered living . . . hopes packed hard into sprung joints,” who lives past and through it all.
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From “Collected First Lines”
I’m sure there is meaning,
and I know it’s sometimes more interesting
to stand in a road than to move along it,
though even this, said with such confidence
just a minute ago,