Fair and Tender Ladies

Fair and Tender Ladies

4.2 15
by Lee Smith

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Ivy Rowe, Virginia mountain girl, then wife, mother, and finally "Mawmaw," never strays far from her home-but the letters she writes take her across the country and over the ocean. Writing "to hold onto what's passing," she tells stories that are rich with the life of Appalachia in words that are colloquial, often misspelled, but always beautiful.

From childhood

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Ivy Rowe, Virginia mountain girl, then wife, mother, and finally "Mawmaw," never strays far from her home-but the letters she writes take her across the country and over the ocean. Writing "to hold onto what's passing," she tells stories that are rich with the life of Appalachia in words that are colloquial, often misspelled, but always beautiful.

From childhood, when teachers encouraged her gift for language, to her rebellious teenage years when she swore against motherhood-only to then become a mother-and on through life, Ivy writes with insight, honesty, and a passion for living that is sure to be infectious.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In the remarkable Ivy Rowe, Smith has conjured a character that chronicles 70 years of life centered in the Appalachian region of Virginia through letters written to family and friends. Born on a farm at the turn of the 20th century, Ivy has the heart and eye of a poet even though her life path follows a far more prosaic course. A mother before she wished to become one, she is soon tied to the land as a farmer’s wife, and other dreams are put away. Regardless of her fate, and she is witness to tragedy and great change in her own life and her wider circle, Ivy remains undaunted, writing letters that reflect her daily life, love of the landscape around her, and deep connections to family. By recording her life and those of others in her letters, and by filling those letters with a beautifully realized sense of time and place, Ivy becomes a storyteller and poet after all.

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Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Readers will be thoroughly captivated by Ivy Rowe, the narrator of this epistolary novel, and will come to the end of her story with a pang of regret. Smith ( Oral History , Family Linen ) has produced her best work here, creating a fully rounded heroine and other vivid characters who inhabit Virginia's Appalachia region. The letters begin around the turn of the century when Ivy is a child living with eight siblings on the family farm on Blue Star Mountain. Written with quaint misspellings and in the vernacular of Southern speech, the missives reflect the harsh poverty of farm life, as well as the simple beauties of the land: ``This is the taste of spring,'' her father tells Ivy, and she never forgets it, even when the family must move to the boom town of Majestic after her father's death. Ivy's talent as a budding writer is recognized early on, but just as she is about to realize her dream of going North to school, she is betrayed by her passionate nature. Though pregnant and ``ruint,'' she marries a childhood friend who takes her back to the family homestead, where she bears several children and endures the endless toil of a farmer's wife. Just when life seems drearily predictable, she succumbs in middle age to an irresistible passion that brings tragic consequences. Ivy is a woman of bewitching appeal and endearing faults: bright, with a poet's eye and soul; spunky, impetuous, sensual and proud. Following her heroine over seven decades, Smith conveys the changing conditions of life in Appalachia, during which time, as Ivy laments, ``everybody has took everything out of herefirst the trees, then the coal, then the children.'' In the old tradition of oral storytelling, Smith has fashioned a dramatic, magical, poignantly true-to-life tale. Literary Guild selection. (September)
School Library Journal
YA-- Ivy Rowe, Virginia mountain girl, then mother, wife, and finally, ``Mamaw,'' writes letters ``to hold on to what is passing.'' Her story tumbles out in words that are colloquial and sometimes misspelled as she pens letters to her family and friends throughout her long life. Although her attendance at school is sparse, the teachers encourage her, believing that she is exceptionally gifted in language. As a teenager, she thinks that she does not want to have children ``as they will brake your hart.'' But have them she does, a process which makes her ``bones screech,'' but she comes to see that ``children swell up your heart.'' She learns the difference between lust, ``a fiery hand in the vitals'' (as in Jane Eyre, a book to which she often refers), and love, which she finds with her husband Oakley. Readers will savor many passages of this novel. On the electrification of Bethel Mountain (``a lovely lady's necklace laid out''), or the invention of birth control pills (``the greatest thing since drip dry''), and many other matters, Ivy writes with a verve and immediacy which prove that her creator, Lee Smith, is a storyteller supreme.-- Keddy Outlaw, Harris County Public Library, Houston

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Fair and Tender Ladies 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book of all time. Someday it will receive the recognition it deserves. Lee Smith's prose drips from the page, it is so beautifully wrought. The novel is made up of letters written by Ivy Rowe, one of the most vivid and wonderful characters in American literature. The letters are written to penpals, sisters, even to the letter-writer herself. Do not miss this book. Absolutely spell-binding and wonderful
BttflyofKYCW More than 1 year ago
I was required to read this book my senior year of high school. I loved this book so much that I ended up buying. I read it to my husband when we got married :D and I have read it a few times since then. This is just one of those stories that touches your heart and stays with you for a long time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ivy is a force to be reckoned with. I love this powerful strong storytelling by this female.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ivy is insane! I loved this book even though I wanted to scream at Ivy. I laughed and I cried. A great Appalachian story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my top ten. I love Ivy Rowe. She taught me so much about life, about myself. For years after I first read this book I missed having Ivy in my life. It's a book you never want to end.
Smiley-in-the-Sunshine More than 1 year ago
Poignant story of an Appalachian woman and what it might have been like for someone with few material but many rich spiritual and cultural resources to move through the circumstanes of pre-WW II -- although fictional, the character breathes and the reader is compelled to care -- particularly relevant to those who value a realistic understanding of women born into poverty -- will change the minds of people who judge others by socioeconomic circumstances alone --highly recommend-- will be reading all the author, Lee Smith, has written
emilyray More than 1 year ago
This is definitely one of my favorite books. It is beautifully written and includes engaging characters whom you will learn to love and hate.
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I absolutely love this book.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books. The life and personality of the lead character is very multi-faceted and believable. This is no one dimensional character but someone with whom I connected on an intimate level, even though my life has little in common with hers. The storytelling device used here may be off-putting to some people. The book is written entirely in letters, but this in no way detracts from the story and in many ways, enhances it. Perhaps the biggest barrier to some readers may be Ms. Smith's use of the dialect of the SW Virginia mountains. This is an important part of the writing because it enables the writer to understand the main character and her background, and to observe the changes in her as the story progresses. This is a truly great novel and I consider it to be a classic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although this novel gets off to a slow start, I think if you stick with it, you'll quickly get involved with the characters and learn to love them.