Frank Yerby was a best-selling author, and much of what he wrote has clear commercial appeal, a point on which he made inconsistent remarks. His plots are intricate and involved, but in many of his novels, the characterizations are basically flat. His favorite era is the nineteenth century South, yet he wrote about many other places and times in his more than thirty novels. Occasionally, he set a novel in modern times. The reader of popular best sellers will find in Yerby’s novels fast-pacednarrative with appropriate amounts of violence and sex.
Yerby was more, however, than a best-selling writer. His short stories written early in his career show promise and develop radically different themes from those of his costume novels. In the 1960’s, secure after many commercial successes, Yerby began to do his best work, dealing with larger issues of race and religion, which figure less prominently in his earlier novels. The characters in these later novels are no longer cardboard figures, while the backgrounds are as richly detailed and vividly re-created as ever. Yerby’s historical novels must be evaluated within the context of that often unappreciated genre. His novels almost always show the conflict between two worlds or orders, as great historical novels do. Yerby rarely deals with actual historical figures but rather creates characters who have to deal with the essential conflicts of their eras. Often his novels, even the early ones, destroy widely...
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