... a fascinating story about the intersection of ambition, race and revenge ... upends the racial calculus that amplifies the stories of the privileged few, offering rich, lovingly rendered portraits of working-class Black people. Hubbard’s work underscores the legendary Toni Morrison’s words in The New Yorker: 'You are not the work you do; you are the person you are' ... Hubbard’s novel is a powerful meditation on the way that Black women’s hopes and fortunes were (and still are) constrained by racism and misogyny ... While The Rib King is set in the early 20th century, the questions it raises are deeply resonant today ... underscores the necessity of revisiting the violence that has been done to African Americans and the ways that language falls short of fully capturing its magnitude ... Hubbard crafts unforgettable characters and masterfully builds suspense. The author also deftly deploys the frame story, putting the present narrative in conversation with the violent events of Sitwell’s childhood in the American South. Sitwell’s intense reaction to the fictional retelling of his primal loss reminds readers that history belongs to those who control its narrative, and that fiction can be as powerful, and in some cases even more influential, than fact. While there is much to enjoy in The Rib King, the ending goes off the rails a bit, with too many minor characters and plot points introduced too swiftly ... will resonate with readers who are interested in African American history and literature, and with those who want to interrogate the emblematic American myths of progress and individual uplift. The novel weighs questions that are central to human experience: how to live in trauma’s long shadow, the value and perils of vengeance, and the (im)possibility of ever fully knowing both others and ourselves.
Hubbard weaves large issues into The Rib King: racism in all its manifestations, from the tedious everyday indignities its characters endure to staggering economic inequality and unpunished violence. The Great Migration, the early years of the civil rights movement and the rise of the Black middle class all provide background for the story. Hubbard’s measured, elegant style is a grounding contrast to it all, and she crafts a complex, suspenseful plot with skill. But, most of all, The Rib King is about its characters, complex, engaging, determined to rise.
... engrossing ... What reads as a different novel altogether is actually a clever complement to the Sitwell section. Through Jennie’s encounters with groups religious, political and even artistic — not to mention loan sharks — every surviving member of the Barclay staff resurfaces, each one bringing her one step closer to the infamous Rib King, who is now seen as a minstrel, an embarrassing remnant of a romanticized past ... By offering these contrasting tones, Hubbard is illuminating the transition from a time that was still shaking off the shadows of slavery to one that was forward-thinking, fueled by dreams that were suddenly achievable in the economic boom of the 1920s ... Unfortunately, the second half of the novel cannot unfold without Hubbard’s leaning hard on convenient coincidences that drag the reader through a winding road of plot twists, sometimes at break-neck speed. This comes across as too neatly engineered in service to tying up an array of loose ends, but it’s difficult to find fault with an author who has written such magnificent and compelling characters as Jennie and Mr. Sitwell ... delightful and surprising. Hubbard’s own superpower is her gift for building extraordinary worlds that examine troubled periods of America’s past while shedding light on the unquestionable innovation and determination of African Americans who, perhaps improbably, thrived within them.
... inventive and original...finding the tragedy and the bitter humor contained within the American obsession with Black iconography ... an exciting read ... the lack of clear-cut moral choices for people living in a white supremacist, capitalist society...drives the book, but never resolves into simple dichotomies. Hubbard's book is jam-packed with plot and characters, schemes and conspiracies, all mixed up in a captivating eddy ... The Rib King is a successful historical novel, full of period detail and sympathetic characters ... Hubbard shows the monstrously strange methods through which capitalism perennially recasts suffering and injustice into profitable icons.
With a shocking tragedy, the story truly takes off, as stereotypes crash down and Mamie and Jennie leave to find something valuable of their own ... Finely written and worth a second read, this novel would be a fantastic choice for book discussion groups. With complete faithfulness to the text, it could also make an excellent movie.
In the era of the belated (and semi-involuntary) retirement of the likes of Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth, The Rib King could hardly be more prescient, as it centers on a Black man who is the face of a food brand ... Hubbard’s depiction of a shadow economy bracketed by race is compelling and insightful, reminiscent of playwright August Wilson’s finest work. Woven into this narrative is a captivating depiction of Black feminist agency at a time not long after white women had gained the right to vote. It’s little wonder that Hubbard won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for debut fiction in 2018. Ultimately the reason to read The Rib King is not its timeliness or its insight into politics or Black culture, but because it accomplishes what the best fiction sets out to do: It drops you into a world you could not otherwise visit and makes you care deeply about what happens there.
In her debut, The Talented Ribkins, (2017), Hubbard ingeniously blended the motifs of superhero comic books into a bittersweet road novel ... Her follow-up departs from the fantastic but is no less inventive ... The two halves of Hubbard’s chronicle have distinct tones. And even if one prefers the deadpan gothic tactics of the first part to the pell-mell momentum of the second, one will be impressed at all times with Hubbard’s control over her historical milieu as well as her complicated, intriguing characterizations. An imaginative work craftily depicting the failure of imagination that is American racism.
Hubbard’s prose brims with unspoken tensions and a prevailing sense of dread as she skillfully explores how the characters are impacted by trauma. Shocking and thought-provoking, Hubbard’s latest cements her status as an American original.