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Andrew Lytle: The Velvet Horn

This novel is generally considered to be Lytle’s best which is why is somewhat surprising that it is out of print. We follow two main stories – that of Julia Cropleigh and her son Lucius Cree. The book starts with Lucius and Julia’s brother, Lucius’ Uncle Jack, going in search of water during a period of drought. Lucius is seduced by Ada Belle, a girl who lives on the mountains. They learn, while up there, that Lucius’ father has been killed by falling tree and Lucius thinks his sexual escapade might be partially responsible for his father’s death and that his father may have killed himself. As they return home, Jack reminisces about his family upbringing and, in particular, what led Julia to marry Joe Cree. It seems that not only is Joe the possible father of Lucius but so are Julia’s brother Duncan and a man called Pete LeGrand, whom Duncan almost killed when he found Julia with him. LeGrand is at Joe Cree’s funeral and he is considering marrying Julia and does offer her financial assistance. Jack is upset about this and gets drunk but then has a revelation that LeGrand is not, as he thinks, the father of Lucius but Duncan is.

All of this story is leading up to Lucius becoming a man. He learns that LeGrand is his father (though we learn that Duncan, in fact, is). He also learns that Ada Belle is pregnant with his child and he plans to marry her. There is a dramatic conclusion which has both a tragic but a redemptive effect, as the tragedy that had affected the family is paid for with blood but will lead to a new, Christ-like rebirth.

Like some of his other novels, religion plays a key role here but it is stronger in this one, with the Christ-like nature of Jack – the innocent, the fool becoming the saviour – playing a key role. It is also about growing up and Lucius’ growing up and assumption of responsibility will help the family put its tragic past behind it and move on. There is no doubt that Lytle’s story is superbly well told and this remains his best and most effective novel.

Publishing history

First published 1957 by McDowell, Obolensky