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novels and poetry

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Reading Van Gogh; An Amateur's Search for God
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Vincent Van Gogh, even with his mental illness, poverty, isolation, and persistent failure, reflected compassion remarkable for his own life of rejection. He loved God. He loved beauty. He acknowledged his own shortcomings and was never as good as he wanted to be. He might be an unlikely role model for some, since he was neither saintly nor successful; but his serious attention to human suffering, as well as to beauty in the world around him, gave this author a different vision. In a nation that lives inside the politics of the day, reveling in the constant wish to be right, or for others to be wrong, these essays might prove to be an antidote. Cox writes about her own experiences, sometimes imprudent, sometimes profound: weeks spent living in a homeless shelter in New York City, a trip to the Mid-East where she visited Yasser Arafat in his compound, an unexpectedly impacting Alaskan adventure, working with abused/neglected children, and the explorations of the mind through reading. Each experience reflected and gave insight into what this author lacked, while deepening a sympathy learned from those around her, always trying to cross that bridge of understanding. One section titled "Prayer Walks" includes a more daily pursuit into a life of "paying attention." READING VAN GOGH plunges into the ideas of psychologists, artists, poets, physicists, and fiction writers who combine reason, imagination, and experience in a way that might enlarge, or even change, the definitions we live by.

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A Question of Mercy

Adam Finney, a young man who is mentally disabled, faces sterilization and lobotomy in a state-supported asylum. When he is found dead in the French Broad River of rural North Carolina, his teenaged stepsister, Jess, is sought for questioning by their family and the police. Jess's odyssey of escape across four states leads into dark territories of life-and-death moral choices where compassion and grace offer faint illumination but few answers. A Question of Mercy, set in a vivid landscape of the mid-twentieth-century South, is the fifth novel from Robert Penn Warren Award-winning writer Elizabeth Cox. As she challenges notions of individual freedom and responsibility against a backdrop of questionable practices governing treatment of the mentally disabled, she also stretches the breadth and limitations of the human heart to love and to forgive.

Jess Booker, on the run and alone, leaves the comfort of her home near Asheville, recklessly trekking through woods and hitchhiking her way to a boarding house in tiny Lula, Alabama, a perceived safe haven she once visited with her late mother. Pursued by a mysterious car with a faded "I Like Ike" sticker, Jess is also haunted by memories of her mother's early death, her father's distressing marriage to Adam's mother, the loving bond she was able to form with Adam despite her initial resistance, and her boyfriend Sam's troubling letters from the thick of combat in the Korean War. In Lula, Jess finds, if only briefly, a respite among a curious surrogate family of fellow displaced outsiders banded together under one roof, and there she finds the strength to heed the call homeward to face the questions she cannot answer about her stepbrother's death.

Through her vibrant depictions of characters in crisis and of the lush, natural landscapes of her southern settings, Cox brings to the fore the moral, ethical, and seemingly unnatural decisions people face when caring for society's weakest members. Grappling with the powerful bonds of love and family, A Question of Mercy recognizes the countless ways people come to help one another and the poor choices they can make because of love―choices that challenge the boundaries of human decency and social justice but also choices that can defy what is legal in the course of seeking what is right.

Jill McCorkle, a Dos Passos Prize-winning novelist and short story writer and the author of Life after Life, provides a foreword to the novel.

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I Have Told You and Told You

These poems, written over a period of thirty years, reflect both the experience of growing up and growing old. The poems seek to find a primitive connection to a natural world that is fast disappearing. They look at what is lost and what is still present, though ignored, in twenty-first-century life.

The familiar subjects of love, death, disaster, discovery, grief, loss, and joy are explored; but the underlying power that keeps emerging lies in the need to rely on images that try to speak a language that cannot be spoken, of music/rhythm to enter that familiar place of the heart, and of a river, the Tennessee River, that drives the heart of this poet.

Bargains in the Real World

In this finely crafted collection, acclaimed writer Elizabeth Cox examines the lives of common people and how they deal with life when uncommon things happen to them — how they accept their fate, sometimes choosing to move on, sometimes not. The stories, many set in the South, deal with questions of loyalty, betrayal, discovery, sexuality, death, birth, and the inner dynamics that drive the choices we make. The characters struggle with a complex mixture of kindness and violence, and their final choices reveal a flawed but finally compassionate humanity.

Elizabeth Cox has an extraordinary talent for inhabiting her characters and capturing place, sense, and time. This commanding group of stories will prove unforgettable.

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The Slow Moon
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On an early spring night in 1991, two high school sweethearts slip away from a party and sneak off into the woods to make love for the first time. An hour later, Sophie lies unconscious, covered with blood, and Crow is crashing through the underbrush to escape the police. What was meant to be an idyllic, intimate evening has turned into a nightmare.

Despite Crow's frantic claims of innocence, evidence at the scene suggests his guilt. And Sophie, by now awake in the hospital, refuses to speak, leaving the residents of the couple's seemingly placid Tennessee town to draw their own wildly varying conclusions. If Crow isn't to blame, then who assaulted Sophie and what compelled Crow to flee? With each answer comes a new set of questions. As growing suspicions divide the town, a closer look reveals that everyone has something to hide.

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Familiar Ground

A man haunted by the death of his brother and a forty-year-old secret returns to his Tennessee hometown in this novel by the author of A Question of Mercy .

A novel of homecoming, loss, and the power of story, Familiar Ground follows the return of Jacob Bechner to rural Sweetwater, Tennessee, summoned by Callie, a dying woman nearly one hundred years old. Jacob aims to confront a moment of violence from forty years in his past that cost him the life of his brother Drue. Elizabeth Cox’s debut novel, first published in 1984, is about the recurrence of loss in our lives and of the intractability of guilt that must give way for any measure of self-forgiveness.

The novel introduces us to a memorable collection of southern characters. There is the indomitable Callie, who has suffered rape and ostracism from the locals; Soldier, a mentally handicapped man lost in his loneliness; Jacob’s alcoholic father and gentle mother; his great-niece and -nephew, whom have already known terrible loss in their young lives; and Jacob’s steadfast wife, Molly, whose understanding of her husband is upended by the revelations of his past. With sparse prose and an authentic southern landscape and cast, Cox delivered an impressive first novel, the merits of which still hold up three decades later.

This Southern Revivals edition includes a new introduction by the author and a contextualizing preface from series editor Robert Brinkmeyer, director of the University of South Carolina Institute for Southern Studies.

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Night Talk

At night, under the same roof, under the same moon, nothing divides the girls, Evie and Janey Louise. Talking in their beds they discuss their mothers, Agnes and Volusia; their absent fathers, one dead, one on the other side of the country; and their brothers, one fighting polio, the other fighting in the U.S. Army.

Their closeness blinds Evie to the divisions of daylight-- that she is white and her best friend is black; that it is her family's house they live in; that Janie's mother is the housekeeper for Evie's family. For years the inequities of race so permeate their lives that they remain invisible to Evie. It is only later in life that a startling series of events forces Evie to ask Jane for forgiveness.

With elegance and compassion, Elizabeth Cox charts the course of two unlikely friendships, between two daughters and their remarkable mothers. Largely set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights days of the fifties and sixties, Night Talk also confronts the unexpected challenges of the present day. Throughout the novel, Cox exposes the insidious and persistent barriers that prevent us from being honest with each other.

Night Talk is a compelling novel by a passionate writer who cares deeply for her characters and for our world.

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The Ragged Way People Fall out of Love

Molly Hanner's marriage to William is slowly unraveling, and the pulls of entropy this exerts upon them and their three children painfully instruct Molly in the many ways people barely miss loving each other. But divorce is only a catalyst in Molly's life. Amazed at the weight of her family's hurt and at her isolation within it, Molly, painter and student of astronomy, shifts her gaze outward -- to the stars, to the images she paints, to the world around her -- looking for an order that will contain the disarray of her own life.

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