ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Bloomsbury Publishing, 175 5th Ave., Suite 300, New York, NY 10010
AWARDS, HONORS: National Endowment for the Arts grant for literature, for Where She Was; Named among year's best fiction, New York magazine, and Pulitzer Prize nomination, both for Home for the Day; Whiting Award for Fiction, 1996.
Where She Was, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.
Home for the Day, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
Have You Heard, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Novelist Anderson Ferrell's debut novel Where She Was, follows a hardworking farm wife who finds herself subjected to increasingly strong religious impulses she does not understand. The novel is particularly noted for its descriptive passages and Southern gothic appeal.
Ferrell's second novel, the Puliter Prize-nominated Home for the Day, is the story of a gay man who returns to his small town from New York City after the death of his lover from AIDS. A year after he has secretly buried his lover's ashes in his family graveyard, the unnamed protagonist decides to confess this to his deeply homophobic, abusive father. Chased from his father's home at gunpoint, he takes refuge in the cemetery, and the entire novel revolves around his memories and stories. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that "although there are several odd and compelling images among the recollections, the author often overplays his symbols." Lambda Book Report contributor Michael Lowenthal found the novel's plot to be "dramatic—verging on melodramatic—in what seems a classically southern way," but noted that, "on a sentence by sentence basis, the writing is exquisite, exhibiting a rare and quiet confidence of craft."
After a long hiatus, Ferrell published his third novel, Have You Heard, which mixes comedy with the tragic sensibility of his previous novels. With this novel, according to New York Times Book Review contributor Jonathan Miles, "Ferrell seems content to let gayness and Southerness dance away, arm in arm." The protagonist is Jerry Chiffon, a young boy who takes over the mothering of his deformed little brother after his mother dies in childbirth. Impressed by his devotion and his flair, the ladies of Branch Creek, North Carolina, take Jerry in and give him a strong training in etiquette, decorating, and the finer things of life. Eventually, he grows up and moves to Greenwich Village, where he experiences the heady days of the late 1970s before AIDS devastates his newfound world. Returning to Branch Creek, he becomes an arbiter of taste and fashion, seemingly content in his social prestige. But Chiffon is haunted by the brutal death of a lover at the hands of fundamentalist thugs, and when a homophobic politician comes to town, Chiffon makes an assassination attempt while dressed in drag.
In Have You Heard, "Ferrell shuffles two faces of the South, the home of mean-spirited hate and the beacon of gracious living," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "His melodious backtracking and sweet-tea atmospherics, along with his catty eye for small-town social distinctions and his keen ear for fence-line gossip, imbue much of Have You Heard, with a juicy charm," according to Miles, who added that, "Like the world at large," the novel "would be far better off without gay-baiting politicians and town-square gunfire." "Because the narrative relies heavily on the device of hearsay, the principal players, along with their heartbreaks and troubles, are cast in a less than genuine light," assessed Marianne Gingher, adding in a review for Triangle.com that she "found it hard to connect emotionally with characters whose truths seemed elliptical." However, a Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that Ferrell's "lucid prose vividly delineates a rich array of characters and voices" and added that the book's "warmth, comedy and au courant flair" might draw a larger audience than Ferrell's previous novels.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2004, review of Have You Heard, p. 51.
Lambda Book Report, January-February, 1995, Michael Lowenthal, review of Home for the Day, p. 30.
New York Times Book Review, April 25, 2004, Jonathan Miles, review of Have You Heard, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, August 29, 1994, review of Home for the Day, p. 63; February 2, 2004, review of Have You Heard, p. 56.