Safe from the Neighbors
By Steve Yarbrough
Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307271709, 272pp.
Publication Date: January 26, 2010
List Price: $25.95*
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Luke May teaches local history—his lifelong obsession—at his old high school in Loring, Mississippi. Having been mentored by his hometown newspaper’s publisher, a survivor of the civil rights turmoil, he now passes these stories along to students far too young to have experienced or, in some cases, even heard about them.
But when a long-lost friend suddenly returns to Loring, where years ago her family had been shattered by an act of spectacular violence, Luke begins to realize that his connection with her runs deeper, both personally and politically, than he ever imagined. Just children in 1962, they had no sense of what was happening when James Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss provoked a bloody new battle in the old Civil War, much less its impact on their fathers’ ambiguous friendship.
Once his daughters leave for Ole Miss, and with his marriage at an impasse, Luke’s investigation of this decades-old trauma soon spills over into his own life. With his parents unwilling, or unable, to help him unlock secrets whose existence he’d never suspected, this amateur historian is soon entirely consumed by an obscure past he can neither explain nor control—a gripping reminder that the past isn’t dead, or even past.
Once again Steve Yarbrough powerfully evokes—as David Guterson put it—“not only historical grief but the grief of our own time.”
“Enjoyable and satisfying…[Safe From the Neighbors] perfectly captures the tenor of the time. Yarbrough’s characters speak with the same laconic beauty Cormac McCarthy’s hard-used Westerners display.” —Greg Langley, The Advocate (Baton Rouge)
“Fascinating.” —Tyrone Beason, The Seattle Times
“Safe From the Neighbors gains great momentum as it delves into an old murder, ancient secrets and extramarital affairs (both old and news). It moves back and forth between current day Mississippi to the days of segregation, and Yarbrough brings both worlds to startlingly vivid life.” —Matt Soergel, The Florida Times-Union
“Yarbrough, who has been likened to Faulkner for his attention to Mississippi (and whose novel Prisoners of War was a finalist for the 2005 PEN/Faulkner award) nimbly illustrates what the past can tell us about the present.” —The New York Times Book Review
"Intricate, absorbing…A satisfying, deftly constructed narrative that contemplates the difficulty with which we shed our ties to history, [and] what we might learn from the mistakes of our forebears (or fail to learn)." —Dennis McFarland, The Washington Post
“Steve Yarbrough’s Safe from the Neighbors will take your breath away. Ambitious, funny, sad, smart, and beautifully crafted, it’s everything a novel should be.” —Richard Russo
“Steve Yarbrough is a masterful storyteller—one of our finest—and Safe from the Neighbors is a masterpiece. Through his narrator, Luke May, an endearing high school history teacher in Mississippi, we are left to explore and unravel mysteries and tragedies both past and present—the very public crimes during the Civil Rights Movement and those quiet, private, and intimate injustices within one’s own life and household. This is a spellbinding, powerful novel.” —Jill McCorkle
“Very few writers understand the complex history and maddening social order of the Mississippi Delta. For Steve Yarbrough, though, it’s home turf. He is wickedly observant, funny, cynical, evocative, and he possesses a gift that cannot be taught: he can tell a story.” —John Grisham
“Steve Yarbrough sets a novel against a freeze-frame of our recent past—James Meredith and the integration of Ole Miss—and somehow makes his story and those sorrowful events come out even ‘truer’ than what actually occurred.” —Paul Hendrickson
“Safe From The Neighbors is a tense, spellbinding narrative of marital betrayal written against a background of Deep South racial angst. The prose is beautifully meditative and authentic. Steve Yarbrough writes about Mississippi, about history and loss, with the eye and heart of the native son he is.” —Tim Gautreaux
“Safe from the Neighbors is a novel of unusual richness and depth, one that's as wise about the small shocks within a marriage as it is about the troubled history of Mississippi. Steve Yarbrough is a formidably talented novelist, shuttling between the past and present with a grace that feels effortless.” —Tom Perrotta
“Steve Yarbrough is a writer of many gifts, but what makes Safe from the Neighbors such a magnificent achievement is its moral complexity. Though the novel’s time and setting would make it easy and convenient to do so, Yarbrough never allows his readers a smug, self-righteous superiority. Instead, his characters and their actions make us question what we would or would not have done if that time and place had been our own. Safe from the Neighbors does what only the best novels can do; after reading it, we can never see the world, or ourselves, in quite the same way.” —Ron Rash