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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jeffery Beam on "A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage"

Reprinted from Facebook
By permission of poet Jeffery Beam.

I just completed my friend Marly Youmans’ latest novel. What I admire about her fiction in general is her ability to echo the Classics while spinning a good tale. She has a way with language which is literary but relaxed, delicate precision coupled with energizing plot ― the story always compels the reader along ― she writes the kind of book one dreams of ― her language beautiful, her sentences delicate but with just the right amount of ornate decoration creating a tension between reality and some other place in which I want to live.

Her characters are always flawed, always searching, and inevitably torn asunder by fateful circumstance. They are also believable, real, no matter how small a part they play in her tales. Marly’s best skill as a writer is to inhabit the interior of her characters through actual events, without having to explicitly relate psychological details. The characters are so much themselves that I feel I know them. That is a difficult accomplishment I think, and is made more amazing by Marly’s ability to create a character and stories that express spiritual or psychic revelations, soul-full discoveries, without feeling either cute or contrived, or New-Age or self-help. That’s what I’m getting at when I say she echoes the Classics.

In the greatest fictions characters, every bit real, also become emblematic or symbolic of each of us ― what was once called Everyman. Marly’s characters live and breathe; they walk not only the true story that is being told, but also the tale of a life, the trance on the path to becoming.

In A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, Pip, our hero, begins his tale with the greatest trauma of his life ― one more but greater death than many he has already known at the small age of ten. He’s a small boy with a large mind ― teeming with tales from the English Civil Wars taken from one of his three favorite books (an orphan’s only possessions). He lives both inside a fantasy created from those stories while somehow understanding with precocious wisdom the burden of his orphan state and the Depression settling all around him. To escape his trauma he sets to the rails, a hobo savant of community and relationship.

A Death is not without suspense, tenderness, and gristle. Pip’s story is a coming of age one, no doubt, but with a difference. He will come to know not only what it is to be a man, and a survivor, but how to become an artist of life – as well as an inhabitant of his personal history and a discoverer of parts of himself, and revealer of the hidden but much-desired parts in others. You’ll really come to love Pip and like so many other Marly’s characters, Pip will never leave you.

Her work, I suspect, partly as a result of its tightrope walk between the contemporary and the archaic, is severely under-rated. She’s not only one of our best stylists, but a fabricator of superior stories told with a sense of fun, serious artistic finesse, and a determination to create works of lasting value available to readers of many ages.

Links for A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage
Read chapter one at Scribd
See the new facebook page
Goodreads giveway, April 15-May 15: 24 copies
Amazon hardcover and ebook
Indie bookstore search
Buy direct from Mercer
In celebration of the new book and National Poetry Month, Mercer is offering The Throne of Psyche at 20% off plus free shipping
Discount code: POETRY


  1. What a warm and intelligent appreciation this is! Marly, I haven't started your book yet but am looking forward to it very much indeed.

  2. Yes, it is very lovely of him!

    Thanks, Beth--enjoy when you get to it (life being so full of deadlines and duties, it's a wonder we ever sit down to read.)

  3. Lovely review. I am waiting impatiently for the book to arrive Marly! What a build up!

  4. I have no doubt of it being on the way! Given the book, it probably stopped off in Savannah and the midwest and maybe in an eucalyptus grove close by...


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.