There’s something about Appalachia that brings out tales. Lee Smith grew up in a mining town in the Appalachian Mountains in southwest Virginia where she says a lie was called a “story” with little distinction between them. That idea traveled south along the ridges of those mountains right down to where I grew up in its foothills in north Mississippi. I, too, heard when the possibility arose that I might be in trouble, “Now, don’t you be telling me a story.”
Dimestore, Lee’s book recommended by a friend with the advance reading copy furnished by Net Galley, begins, “I was born in a rugged ring of mountains in southwest Virginia – mountains so high, so straight up and down, that the sun didn’t hit our yard until about eleven o’clock.” The language of the first chapter had me tripping merrily with her back in time with rural places and people. I settled in for a cheerful return to the stories told on porches on long summer afternoons. My first impression lasted through her eavesdropping on adult conversations sprinkled with, “never been quite right,” “bless her heart,” or “kindly nervous” – a euphemism for mental illness. I’d heard them all in my own eavesdropping years. I knew the dimestores like her father’s where these conversations might take place.
The cheer never quite leaves but becomes mingled with other emotions as she describes her father’s bouts with depression, her mother’s “kindly nervous” episodes, and being taken in and cared for by other relatives when both parents’ problems occurred simultaneously.
I’ll not spoil your reading with the rest of the story, but the emotional journey told in the style of the porch stories includes laughter, heartbreak, hope, disappointment, and love. If I had to choose a theme, I would cite this quote from the book, “Writing cannot bring our loved ones back, but it can sometimes fix them in our fleeting memories as they were in life, and it can always help us make it through the night.”
My best advice? Don’t delay. Rush right out to reserve a copy at your local independent book store or click your account to have it delivered to your reading device when it goes on sale March 22.