Winner of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award
At seventy-two, Johnny Ribkins shouldn’t have such problems: He’s got one week to come up with the money he stole from his mobster boss or it’s curtains for Johnny.
What may or may not be useful to Johnny as he flees is that he comes from an African-American family that has been gifted with rather super powers that are rather sad, but superpowers nonetheless. For example, Johnny’s father could see colors no one else could see. His brother could scale perfectly flat walls. His cousin belches fire. And Johnny himself can make precise maps of any space you name, whether he’s been there or not.
In the old days, the Ribkins family tried to apply their gifts to the civil rights effort, calling themselves The Justice Committee. But when their, eh, superpowers proved insufficient, the group fell apart. Out of frustration Johnny and his brother used their talents to stage a series of burglaries, each more daring than the last.
Fast forward a couple decades and Johnny’s on a race against the clock to dig up loot he’s stashed all over Florida. His brother is gone, but he has an unexpected sidekick: his brother’s daughter, Eloise, who has a special superpower of her own.
Inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois’s famous essay “The Talented Tenth” and fuelled by Ladee Hubbard’s marvelously original imagination, The Talented Ribkins is a big-hearted debut novel about race, class, politics, and the unique gifts that, while they may cause some problems from time to time, bind a family together.
“For sheer reading pleasure Ladee Hubbard’s original and wildly inventive novel is in a class by itself.” —Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-winning author of The Bluest Eye, Beloved, and Song of Solomon
“Crafty and wistful…Hubbard weaves this narrative with prodigious skill and compelling warmth. You anticipate a movie while wondering if any movie could do this fascinating family…well, justice. To describe this novel, as someone inevitably will, as Song of Solomon reimagined as a Marvel Comics franchise is to shortchange its cleverness and audacity.” —Kirkus, starred review
“The Talented Ribkins is a charming and delightful debut novel with a profound heart, and Ladee Hubbard’s voice is a welcome original.” —Mary Gaitskill, author of Bad Behavior and Veronica
“What a pleasure it was to take a road trip with The Talented Ribkins, a simultaneously gifted and flawed family, sharp-witted but prone to making utterly human errors. Ladee Hubbard has given us a fresh and original debut novel.” —Jami Attenberg, author of All Grown Up
“With The Talented Ribkins, Ladee Hubbard proves herself to be a rare talent who pops onto the scene fully formed as a writer of power and purpose. Thisis a heart-wrenching quest into the absurdity that is family. Like the best literary fantasies, The Talented Ribkins succeeds because the heart that beats at its center couldn’t be realer.” —Mat Johnson, author of Loving Day and Pym
Laddee Hubbard is the winner of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for the Short Story. She holds a BA from Princeton University, an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Talented Ribkins is her first novel.