Sunday, October 25, 2009

Family Linen by Lee Smith

Lee Smith is a very fine contemporary southern writer. She grew up in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia and is married to journalist Hal Crowther. Dorothea Benton Frank (another wonderful author of low country tales) calls her an artist of the first order and arguably one of the most important voices in American fiction writing today.

Lee Smith says she wrote Family Linen after seeing a news story in the Raleigh newspaper about a schoolteacher who under hypnosis revealed a terrifying childhood experience where she had witnessed her mother kill her father, then chop him up and stuff him down an outhouse. The teacher confronted her mother, a pillar of the community, and her mother immediately drove her car out into the middle of a tobacco field and shot herself.

Family Linen starts out with a repressed memory of murder brought out by a hypnotist, then with rambling style and much humor leads us through a funeral that leads to a family reunion, during the course of which the family's secrets are aired like dirty linen. Smith's characters are entertaining, but behind the humor is some serious stuff. Smith has a special knack of combining humor, sadness, absurdity, horror, and tragedy with great skill and understanding. This book is full of those outrageous eccentrics that seem to inhabit the south, but the writing style is everyday, colloquial, and distinctly American. It is an absorbing novel of family life with all its various dysfunction and hilarity.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Stitches by David Small

David Small is an award winning children's author. This memoir in graphic novel format tells the story of David's dysfunctional family from his point of view, as a very imaginative small child. Many of the drawings have no words to accompany them at all, but they don't need them either. They are dark and fearful and funny and sweet and the expressions in the eyes and on the faces will tug at your heart. This is a very emotional book. It is also the artwork that elevates this dark work to an extraordinary level. This story is best told in the graphic novel format, rather than between the pages of a conventional book.

David's father was a radiologist who subjected him to so many unnecessary X-rays for minor ailments that it gave him cancer. David's mother simply did not love him. We find out at the end of the book that there were extenuating circumstances that contributed to her behavior, but I can't fathom how hurtful this must have been for a small child. David's maternal grandmother was crazy and had to be committed. David's older brother was always off to himself in his room playing his drums.

This is a brave and honest recital of his childhood that is a lovely sardonic read. And here's a quote from the back of the book on the page that tells you a little bit more about his mother: "Nobody heard her tears; the heart is a fountain of weeping water which makes no noise in the world." [Edward Dahlberg]

This was a brutal, poignant, and brilliant book.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Bluegrass Conspiracy by Sally Denton

Sally Denton used to be an investigator for Jack Anderson, so with that sort of background you would expect her to be able to unravel the complicated scenario that this tale of corruption in Lexington provides. And she does not disappoint. What starts out as a simple tale of rogue Lexington cops turns into a story of international corruption with a list of Kentucky bluebloods at its center.

When Lexington native Drew Thornton parachutes to his death in September of 1985, carrying thousands in cash and 150 pounds of cocaine--it is the start of a scandal that reaches into the top secret levels of the U.S. government. Thornton worked for "The Company", a crime ring composed of Lexington socialites that was involved in gun running and drug smuggling and seemed to have major connections to South America and various drug cartels. Ralph Ross, a tenacious Kentucky State Police officer, leads a heroic fight against this web of corruption and is almost destroyed in the process.

This book is probably a must read for native Kentuckians and is a fascinating and compelling read for anyone who is interested in true crime/organized crime. It is an inside story of power, greed, drugs, and murder. The book was so controversial upon its initial publication in 1990 that it was pulled from publication and only recently been given a new printing. Sally Denton has written a fascinating book about cops, drugs, politics, and violence that will keep you engrossed to the last page.
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