The Marrowbone Marble Company
How an idealistic GI – newly home from World War II – found his calling making marbles and fighting racism.
In the annals of divine literary pronouncements, “Make marbles” ranks right up there with “If you build it, they will come,” for the initial “huh?” factor.Skip to next paragraph
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But that’s what the disembodied voice in his dream said, so that’s what orphan Loyal Ledford sets out to do. Only, instead of Iowa cornfields, the World War II veteran is surrounded by West Virginia mountains. And instead of a ball field, he’s trying to create a place where people can live and work together regardless of race. (When the dream voice tells him to name his youngest son Orb he does that, too – although that seems like taking blind obedience a little too far.)
Glenn Taylor’s debut novel, “The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart,” was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Marrowbone Marble Company is a terrific follow-up, showcasing his high aims and impressive sentence-building chops.
Taylor announces his epic intentions from the start: He leads off with a sweaty, terrifying rendition of Guadalcanal, where Loyal becomes unmoored from his moral center.
Back at home and married to his childhood sweetheart, Rachel, heir of the Mann Glass factory where Loyal works, he drinks too much and gambles with his war buddy, Erminio Bacigalupo, a budding hit man. (Taylor has an ability to name things that’s almost Adam-like, but he might have considered changing Erm’s last name, since John Irving just used it for his main characters in “Last Night in Twisted River.” But I guess “wolf mouth” is just too evocative to resist.)
A progressive preacher named Don Staples introduces Loyal to civil rights. After realizing he’s not going to be able to integrate the glass factory – or its softball team – Loyal sets out to found a new company. (The scene where Loyal, standing alone like Charlie Brown on the pitcher’s mound, cuts off the last “n” on his Mann softball uniform is a rare instance of Taylor pounding his soapbox a little too hard. Most of the time, thankfully, he’s too busy storytelling to preach.)