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Book Title: Oral History|
The author of the book: Lee Smith
Date of issue: December 6th 2011
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 562 KB
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Reader ratings: 3.8
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The Cantrell family has lived in Hoot Owl Holler in the mountains of Virginia for as long as anyone can remember. They love hard, play hard, and suffer deeply. There doesn't seem to be any in-between for them. Oral History follows...let's call it three...generations of Cantrells, starting with handsome Almarine and his run-in with a witch and going on down to his grandchildren.
I loved this. I was thinking that it was my second-favorite book by Lee Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies is far and away my very favorite), but then I remembered On Agate Hill. We'll call it a tie.
I say this every time, but I love the rhythm of Smith's writing. She writes in a way that is as familiar to me as an old worn quilt. The words, the syntax, the pronunciation, I just hear every word as if a family member were telling me a story.
I loved the way the family events passed into legends in the hollers where they lived. From Almarine and his witch (was she really?) to a family curse to mysterious deaths. Smith never tells more than she should and leaves it up to the reader to decide what is "fact" and what is myth in this fictional family.
The story passes from person to person as the years roll by, but the events are never told by those living them. That helps to keep the "reality or legend?" question going. The narrators aren't always sure themselves. I followed along with it just fine but readers who dislike multiple points of view might want to steer clear.
There is a streak of something dark in some families in these mountains and I think Smith caught that feeling perfectly. I can't explain it any better that. Maybe it's just that we've all lived here so long, we expect to see family traits and find what we're looking for. But I can tell you exactly which road the Cantrells would have lived on in my little community--where that dark streak is found.
I liked seeing how the mountain people change as the years go by. They go from almost complete isolation to watching tv and selling Amway. I can't find it now, but one character comments on how the younger generations will eventually sound more like Dan Rather than their own people. It's true. The book feels a bit like a love offering to a changing way of life.
The framework of the novel is built around a great-granddaughter who grew up in "town" coming back in search of her mother's family's oral history. I didn't like it and, after reading an interview with the author at the end, I don't think it worked exactly the way she intended it to. I think it was supposed to give an outsider's look at the "quaint mountaineers" and show how the Appalachian culture is slowly dying out as young people move away. It just irritated me. There were other sections where Smith showed the same thing much better. Jennifer, the estranged great-granddaughter, just comes across as vapid after the richness of the other characters.
Those few pages aside, I loved this book. I highly recommend it.
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Read information about the authorGrowing up in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia, nine-year-old Lee Smith was already writing--and selling, for a nickel apiece--stories about her neighbors in the coal boomtown of Grundy and the nearby isolated "hollers." Since 1968, she has published eleven novels, as well as three collections of short stories, and has received many writing awards.
The sense of place infusing her novels reveals her insight into and empathy for the people and culture of Appalachia. Lee Smith was born in 1944 in Grundy, Virginia, a small coal-mining town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, not 10 miles from the Kentucky border. The Smith home sat on Main Street, and the Levisa River ran just behind it. Her mother, Virginia, was a college graduate who had come to Grundy to teach school.
Her father, Ernest, a native of the area, operated a dime store. And it was in that store that Smith's training as a writer began. Through a peephole in the ceiling of the store, Smith would watch and listen to the shoppers, paying close attention to the details of how they talked and dressed and what they said.
"I didn't know any writers," Smith says, "[but] I grew up in the midst of people just talking and talking and talking and telling these stories. My Uncle Vern, who was in the legislature, was a famous storyteller, as were others, including my dad. It was very local. I mean, my mother could make a story out of anything; she'd go to the grocery store and come home with a story."
Smith describes herself as a "deeply weird" child. She was an insatiable reader. When she was 9 or 10, she wrote her first story, about Adlai Stevenson and Jane Russell heading out west together to become Mormons--and embodying the very same themes, Smith says, that concern her even today. "You know, religion and flight, staying in one place or not staying, containment or flight--and religion." From Lee Smith's official website.
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