Nine men from the all-black town of Ruby, Oklahoma, are ready to launch a military-style assault against the five women living in a former nunnery called the Convent, located seventeen miles outside town. The women represent everything that, at minimum, two of the men, twin brothers Deacon (Deek) and Steward Morgan, have fought against all their lives: white people and “white blood,” or light-skinned blacks. They enter the Convent and “shoot the white girl first. With the rest [of the women] they can take their time.”
Ruby had been founded by the descendants of the original exiles from Louisiana and Alabama who, in 1889, traveled west toward the “free” territory of Oklahoma. Arriving there, they were turned away from town after town by Choctaws and poor whites. The most traumatic event, one the Morgans have never forgotten, was being turned away by citizens of the all-black town of Fairly, Oklahoma. Although the real reason for their “disallowing” was their lack of cash or capital, Deacon and Steward believe skin-color prejudice, and not economic discrimination, had kept them out of Fairly, a town of light-skinned blacks. So the “8-rock” blacks, so called for the blackness of the “deep deep level in the coal mines,” founded the town of Haven and made it exclusive: No American Indians, whites, or light-skinned blacks were allowed to reside there. When the Great Depression took its toll on the town, the surviving people of Haven moved deeper into unpopulated Oklahoma Territory, avoided the major cities, and founded Ruby, named for the Morgan brothers’ mother, who had died in transit.
The Morgan twins are married to twin sisters, Dovey and Soane. Steward and Dovey cannot have children, and Deacon and Soane had lost both of their sons in the Vietnam War. Sterility and death have led the four to other forms of compensation: Dovey has an imaginary friend, suggesting her withdrawal into childhood. Soane, who had an abortion (the result of an affair) shortly after she and Deacon were married, regularly takes a “tonic” (prepared by Connie Sosa) that prevents her from getting pregnant again; she also talks to birds, warning them to “watch out” for Deacon, who hunts quail. Deacon is having an affair with Connie, as had Steward, and both are losing their grip on power in Ruby.
A new minister, the Reverend Misner, has started a credit union, whose favorable interest rates threaten the Morgans’ bank. The Morgans’ nephew, K. D. Morgan, the son of their dead older brother, has insulted his pregnant girlfriend, Arnette Fleetwood, with a public slap in the face; now, her father, Arnold Fleetwood, wants justice. The Morgans are forced to promise to pay for her college education. K. D., who is having an affair with Grace “Gigi” Gibson, wants to end his relationship with Arnette, but because...
(The entire section is 1164 words.)