The novel is set in a small, Southern town. Velma Henry, a long-time civil rights activist and feminist, sits in a hospital gown on a stool listening to the musical voice of Minnie Ransom. Old Minnie is a healer; she heals people by contacting the points of physical or psychical pain in her patients and relieving them. She is helped by her spirit guide, Old Wife. Scars heal and wounds close in minutes under her touch.

Velma needs her help because she has just tried to kill herself, sick of the painful fight for change that never comes. Her healing takes a long time, for Minnie must first convince her that she wants to be cured. The two are surrounded by tourists, doctors, and passers-by. They are in a clinic that focuses on traditional medicines of all kinds. The novel describes the inner-healing process of Velma, the efforts of Minnie and the thoughts of people looking on or associated with the scene.


Minnie presents an alternative view of medicine and its relationship to pain. Pain is not a symptom, but the problem itself. Healing comes from within the patient, guided by Minnie rather than through treatment from the outside. The novel also situates illness is a socio-historical realm. Velma is sick because of racial and sexual injustice. Others in the novel are obsessed with nuclear waste, chemical leaks, and lead pipes and their potential health hazards.



Random House

Place Published

New York



Page Count