Monday, April 4, 2016
Memoir Pick: Dimestore: A Writer's Life
by Lee Smith
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Lee Smith's collection of personal essays embeds her as the voice of Appalachia. Her life story reads like a country song of religion, love, life, birth, death, pain, suffering, and joy. She grew up the only child of a hard working shopkeeper and his wife. Smith's town was full of kin: cousins, uncles, aunts, and twice removed more distant cousins. Everybody who wasn't related to each other at least knew each other. There were no secrets in town...at least no long kept secrets. Church was the center of their lives: revivals, services, church suppers, prayer meetings, funerals, and baptisms.
Children ran though the hills, swam in the river, caught fish in the stream, played up and down in all the hollers, and came home with a hand full of wildflowers or a jar of lightning bugs. Smith conjures up the magic and wisdom of a time and a place so distant that most of us can't recall. Folks went to church on Sunday or faced the rest of the town's scorn. People stood at attention for the pledge and celebrated being American and free.
Mothers cooked three meals a day, kids ate a lunch packed in a brown paper bag, fathers sometimes sat down to dinner late, but they always had their dinner at the table. Main street consisted of the dimestore, the post office, a movie theatre, a fire house and not much else. Some topics were never talked about. Mental illnesses were called by gentler terms, "a bout," "an episode," "kindly nervous." When someone died, the whole town took notice and brought dishes of food. Think "Mayberry RFD" with Loretta Lynn thrown in. The town of Grundy doesn't exist anymore having been flooded by the Army Corps of Engineers, but Lee Smith's love letter to a bygone town and time live on as an endearing place of love and family.
Smith pays tribute to writing and the love of reading. She includes passages of fiction and poetry written by some of her adult students. She celebrates the life and poetry of Lou Crabtree and spoke at her funeral. Lou was an elderly lady when Smith met her at a writing workshop she was teaching. Lou had suitcases full of poems and fiction and she wrote to please herself never once thinking of publishing. She wrote to soothe herself, to calm herself, to see something on the page that made her happy. That is what writing should be! Later, Smith includes a quote from Anne Tyler who said, "I write because I want more than one life." Not to get rich, not to be famous, not to travel or to be on television. Writing for the people in Smith's essays is the essence of their being.
Thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining, this short read (200 pages) is satisfying for the soul. Smith presents a simpler way of life in the glowing halo of wistful nostalgia, but it's beautiful and ethereal.
Highly recommended for adult and mature readers and all book clubs. Anyone who loves small town America, the South, and Appalachia will love this book.
FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.