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A Visitation of Spirits: A Novel Paperback – January 25, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As its title suggests, a powerful strain of mysticism runs through this story of personal awakening in a black North Carolina family, but first-time novelist Kenan has a rare gift for naturalism as well, capturing the texture of farm life with vivid detail. The novel follows Horace Cross, a brilliant, tormented teenager who is his family's greatest hope, through a night when demons--perhaps literal, perhaps imagined--force him to confront his bleakest thoughts. Revolted by his homosexuality, flummoxed by his nonconformity and resentful of his family's closed-mindedness, Horace careens toward disaster, while in scenes that leap through time, we meet the other generations of the Cross family. Kenan shapes his novel as a series of struggles for understanding and enlightenment, contrasting Horace's strife with an older cousin's efforts to understand him. Although shifts in time and tone are often jarring and sometimes gratuitous, the strength and richness of Kenan's best passages sweep any objections aside.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Randall Kenan continues [James] Baldwin's legendary tradition of 'telling it on the mountain' by giving voice to the unvarnished truth about blacks and homosexuality." --San Francisco Chronicle

"A gifted, confident writer." --The Raleigh News & Observer

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375703977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375703973
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #396,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By I. Sondel VINE VOICE on December 6, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"A Visitation of Spirits" is a portrait of Horace Cross, an adolscent both black and gay. This is an angry, often confrontational, novel dealing with the psychological ramifications wrought by religious condemnation, gross hypocrisy and clergy that myopically perverts scripture by preaching hate and intolerance.
The story is communicated through a series of recollections. Reality and memory coalesce in a nightmarish, drug-induced psychosis. "A Visitation of Spirits" is a haunting novel of a young gay man wrestling with his demons. His struggles are universal; his solution is, unfortunately, both tragic and final. This is a work of incredible depth,passion and understanding.
Randall Kenen, who won a Lambda Award for his short story collection "Let the Dead Bury Thier Dead," is an enormously talented prose stylist. He brings together the best qualities of James Baldwin, Carson McCullers, Toni Morrison and Flannery O'Connor. Higher praise could not be offered.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Smith VINE VOICE on September 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a powerful novel with a complex construction that takes effort on the part of the reader - chapters occur in two series of events that are identified by date and time as well as "confessions" that review particular lives. The book's strength is in showing the successful rural black family's attitude towards whites and in showing the role of the church in their community. The plot line holding it together is that of a talented teenager unable to come to terms with his homosexual orientation, sure that it will damn him in the sight of God. The context for this self-damnation is set by his deacon grandfather who raised him and who counsels members of the community, his great aunts who assist in raising him who are mothers in the church, and his preacher cousin - the religion which runs through the family is a stern religion with the backbone that allowed his family to succeed.
Within this framework, we get wonderful prose describing the disappearing culture - house raisings, pig slaughters... - and the "new culture" of racial intergration. We see several generations attempting to adjust to the new world while retaining their family values. All in all a book well worth the time required to read and savor it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
Horace Cross is struggling with his small town's suffocating atmosphere, his family's expectations, and his own homosexuality while it's condemned by his religion. He finds an escape, of sorts, by delving into sorcery, and he conjures a demon spirit which spirits him back through his life as if he's Ebenezer Scrooge. His cousin Jimmy is a reverend living with the memories of his deceased wife, as well as struggling with his own inner demons. Interwoven in these tales is the story of not only the Cross family, but also of the disappearing ways of life in the South, most specifically the lives of African-Americans in the South. It's a potent, rhythmic narrative that draws the reader further and further into Horace's painful tale. I stumbled through some of the beginning pages, but it certainly became more accessible as the book continued. Considered one of the 100 Best Lesbian and Gay Novels, Kenan's "A Visitation of Spirits" is certainly worthy of that distinction.
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