Safe From the Neighbors by Steve Yarbrough
January 2010, Knopf

Steve Yarbrough’s fifth novel is one of the finest examples of lovely language in fiction I’ve read all year. The vehicle for Yarbrough’s words is the story of Luke May, a local history teacher in Loring, Mississippi, in the Delta. When a new teacher comes to Luke’s school, he is pushed to investigate a Civil Rights-era tragedy. This consuming quest—part murder mystery, part personal reckoning—will lead Luke to make a drastic and painful choice.

She’s not there. I hang around near the door until two minutes before eight, nodding at the students as they file past, a couple of them giving me funny looks, wondering what I’m doing here. When I finally give up and head for my own room, at the far end of the west wing, I see her: like me, she’s been standing outside the door, this small, trim woman in the same white slacks and purple blouse she wore the first day of school. She looks anxious, her hands working nervously as they hang by her sides. She has no intention of leaving. The bell rings, but she doesn’t move.

She watches while I walk toward her. When I’m four or five feet away, she says, “Yes?”

I don’t know how I know this, but I do: yes with a question mark after it doesn’t mean yes and it doesn’t mean no. It’s not a statement, but neither is it a question. What it is is an opening, a space you can either fill in or choose not to.

Related in BookPage: Reviews of Yarbrough’s The End of California, The Oxygen Man and Visible Sprits.

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