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May 2004
Judge
by Dwight Allen

From the first edition hardback (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003):

Judge William Dupree doesn’t much look the way his upper-crust cronies in Louisville, Kentucky, think judges should look. He’s frail, scrawny necked. In his courtroom, he sits atilt, propped by an elbow. To his son Crawford he seems “wispy and unsubstantial.” His son Morgan notices how the hair stands up on the back of his head “like a woodpecker’s crest.”

When the Judge dies at eighty-two, even his lengthy, admiring obituary notes the “tattered, dirty-at-the-cuffs” raincoat he wore to work. His clerk, Lucy, remembers (fondly) the floppy, broad-brimmed Australian bush hat his wife insisted he wear and how, standing, he listed to the left, which was how his conservative critics characterized his rulings. His widow, a nagging hypochondriac, considered by some an out-and-out shrew, remembers her husband peevishly. “He was off in his own world most of the time.” She’d had to train him to put his dirty clothes down the chute, “for goodness sake.”

But without the beloved judge—gentle, reserved, henpecked as he was—his survivors begin to behave in ways that would surely have caught his attention. Crawford leaves his wife for a struggling young ventriloquist. Morgan pierces one ear and inserts a pink pearl earring. Mrs. Dupree invites her yardman to share her empty house. Lucy can’t seem to forget the single kiss she and the Judge shared, when he was eighty and she forty. And, while they are grappling with the Judge’s absence, they all feel—and sometimes even see—his presence. For, dead or alive, the Judge promotes family love even in the face of blatant family failures.

At once wry, playful, and luminous, Judge is a novel that takes a family’s heart to court, proves it guilty, and argues for mercy. As Judge William Dupree understood, acts of the heart are not to be judged.


Dwight Allen, author of the acclaimed The Green Suit: Stories, is a native of Louisville, Kentucky, and lives now in Madison, Wisconsin, with his wife and their teenage son. A graduate of Lawrence University, he worked at the New Yorker for ten years after receiving his MFA from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop. His work has been published in a range of literary magazines, including the Georgia Review, the Missouri Review, and Epoch.



“Dwight Allen’s aesthetic grants him an uncommon grace and wry facility when it comes to rendering the melancholy disappointments, as well as the sweetness, of love.”
—Jim Shepard, author of Batting Against Castro and Nosferatu

“This is one of the most accomplished first novels I’ve ever read. Dwight Allen’s touch is exquisite, his characters vital, memorable and real, and he moves effortlessly from one complex and fully realized point of view to another. He is a master portraitist and he always cuts right to the heart.”
—T. Coraghessan Boyle, author of East Is East and Drop City


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