CBR13Bingo – Shelfie
This is a 1940 novel by the Kentucky writer James Still. I learned about James Still from Lee Smith’s memoir Dimestore, where the older writer clearly had some positive influence over Lee Smith both in writerly ways and in personal ways.
This novel is narrated by a seven year old boy who is watching from his perch as his family, his parents, and his neighbors deal with the realities of rural Kentucky life, the Great Depression, and just the regular vicissitudes of life. We begin with his father’s cousins showing up to the farm and being more than willing to eat up all the family’s food. There’s a kind of loss of innocence here as our narrator watches his cousins be willing to hurt their family, his mother righteously calling them, and his father defending them under indefensible principles like family. This becomes a recurring theme as his father “admirable” in the abstract, but being ridiculous in the pragmatic. This makes it a very American novel.
Also making it American is the focus on language and names. The names, especially if you’re not used to them, are both wonderful and distracting. Whoever owned my copy before me literally underlined every single name in this book. Also, the dialect, which is always a little fraught in books, is prevalent here. It’s a very good novel in so many ways however.