"Curing Time,"by Tim Swink of Greensboro, holds promise but fails to live up to it.
Maybe the problem is that Swink set out to do too many things with this first novel.
First, it's a historical tale, set in 1959, that describes what life was like for a Guilford County family that made its scanty living raising tobacco. True to that era on the cusp of the civil rights movement, it's also about race relations and the indignities and inequalities suffered by black people.
Hume and Ellen Rankin and their nine children are the struggling farm family in Brown Summit, and Walt Neal, his blind wife, Daisy, and their children are the black family who live on the farm and help with the crops. There's a good bit of drama and tension within and between the two families.
Then, Swink tries to make the book a murder mystery, complete with trial, although the murder doesn't happen until close to the end of the story, and there's little foundation laid for the solution that comes all too quickly and easily.
As if those weren't enough threads to weave into a 212- page book, Swink introduces the supernatural, mostly in the form of gnomes who inhabit the woods on the Rankin family farm. The supernatural comes into play when Hume Rankin asks Daisy, the blind woman, to do something about the drought that's threatening his tobacco crop, and it thrusts itself jarringly into the story from time to time. Then too, one of the Rankin daughters claims to see the little people around the farm.
To introduce more information about gnomes, Swink uses the rather heavy-handed device of having Ellen take a job in the library at what would then have been Woman's College, where she chances upon a book about gnomes. She also reconnects with a childhood friend who now is the "dean" of the anthropology department, and
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by Tim Swink (Pegasus Books, 212 pages, $16.95, paperback).