I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith

Set in the mountains of Virginia, this sweeping novel tells the story of Ivy Rowe beginning in 1914 when she was a young teenager living on a farm way up on the mountain with her sisters and brothers and her father is lying in front of the fire slowly dying.  When he does die her mother does what she can to keep the farm going because the farm had been in the family for generations and she wanted to keep it up for her eldest Victor, who has left to go work in a lumber mill.  Her next oldest brother, Clarence Wayne, or Babe, who is half of the twins with the other half being Silvaney, is evil, while Silvaney suffered brain damage after a childhood illness is quite simple and loves to traipse about in the forest.  Her older sister Beulah dreams of something better, while Ethel is a born talker and saleswoman. Garnie her younger brother is known as the preacher due to his obsession with revivals. Her mother came from a well off family and married for love and was cut off from that family when she did so.  Red hair and tempers run in the family.

Beulah becomes pregnant with the town boy Curtis Bostick's child, but whose mother won't let him have anything to do with her. So Beulah has the child and names it John Arthur after their father who was being buried the day the child was born.  The description of the funeral and burial rites for a mountain person at this time are very interesting. For example, you are buried in your burial quilt with coins on your eyes.

When Ivy's mother cannot keep the farm going they pack up and move into a bed and breakfast run by Geneva. At this time it's only Ivy and Garnie, because circumstance has led the others in different directions.  Garnie come under the influence of a corrupt revival preacher and Ivy at the age of fourteen becomes pregnant, just as she is offered the opportunity to further her education at a nice school in Boston.  Now she has to drop out of school to raise her child.  When her mother dies, Ivy and Rose go to live with Beulah and it is there that she meets up again with Oakley Fox the first boy she kissed back on Star Mountain.  But there's a much more interesting man who has her eye now.

This book is told through a series of letters written to various people in Ivy's life. The unusual thing about this book is that there are no response letters. You are dependent on what Ivy says in her letters to figure out what has happened or is being said by the other person.  Also, the language of the book is quite written quite backwoods at the beginning but it improves as her education improves across the novel.  It is quite creatively done.  Ivy is quite the firecracker and grabs life by the horns and does not let go. She makes mistakes but she does not necessarily regret them. I fell in love with this spirited character who reaches out to the reader connects with you in a very basic way.  She will steal your heart away and take it back up into the mountains where she can only live.  

A body can get used to anything except hanging.
-Lee Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies p 227)
And I will tell you the truth—may be it’s best to be the lover, some ways. Because even if you don’t work out, you are glad. You are glad you done it. You are glad you got to be there, anyway, however long it lasted, whatever it cost you—which is always plenty, I reckon.
-Lee Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies p 272)
I used to be a scandal myself. Now I’m an institution.
-Lee Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies p 281)
Link to Amazon:  https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/5161IFFUpGL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

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