Farewell, I'm Bound to Leave Youby Fred Chappell
This collection of linked short stories begins in a room made cool by the approach of death, where an old woman and her grieving daughter are saying goodbye in silent, urgent conversation. In the next room, Jess Kirkman waits with his father, remembering the tales his grandmother and mother passed down-an inheritance lush in language and music and imaginative teaching, told by women to a young man who will one day find such wisdom needful. Each tale builds and weaves in a counterplay as intricate as that of fiddle and banjo-and in styles ranging from ghost to detective to comic to love stories. Fred Chapell is a prolific poet and fiction writer praised for his mastery of colloquial dialogue-you don't so much read the language as gear the tobacco-y murmur of it in your ear.
The first refreshing thing about Chappell is that he knows how to tell a story. The second is that he doesn't pretend to be doing anything else. Ostensibly, the central character here is Granny Sorrells, an elderly North Carolina hillbilly on her deathbed. Granny is surrounded by her kinfolk, but we more or less lose track of her as a character once her grandson Jess starts to reminisce about Granny's stories of the local women she spent most of her life with. We thus learn about "The Shooting Woman," who seduced her husband with her marksmanship; "The Figuring Woman," who became the village soothsayer; "The Madwoman," who lost her wits after an unhappy affair, and so on. Although this concentration on strong, self-reliant backwoods girls brings the novel perilously close to self-parody at times, Chappell is able to provide enough color and credibility to the (easily recognizable) types he works with to rescue them from stereotype, and the old-fashioned and very formal device of giving us a narrator who stands largely outside the action of the tale works nicely to bring us into what ordinarily would be a very strange and disorienting world. To a large degree Chappell, like most regionalists, is attempting to re- create an entire society, and the success with which he does so gives his characters an uncommon depth and texture. Although his rhetoric can get a bit overblown, it usually supports the action and fits the characters.
Busy, satisfying, and wholesome: Chappell casts a sharp eye upon a very rich landscape and gives us a portrait as poignant as it is clear.
“Grounded in the gripping art of storytelling, [it] demonstrates Fred Chappell's universal appeal . . . A stirring chorale of women's voices.” Robert Taylor, The Boston Globe
“A vibrant picture . . . Chappell describes steely, passionate women, the savory foods they cook, and the luscious landscapes they inhabit.” Margot Mifflin, Entertainment Weekly
“An array of flavorful tales . . . a sometimes boisterous, sometimes lyrical, sometimes Gothically romantic celebration of women.” David Willis McCullough, The New York Times Book Review
“Haunting . . . Rich, lyrical, and frequently elegiac . . . Fred Chappell has become one of our indispensable contemporary writers.” Greg Johnson, The Atlanta Journal/Constitution
“Exuberant . . . musically written . . . Chappell here acknowledges fully and equally both the sadness and celebration and honors both, as only a gifted, fully initiated, grown-up writer can do.” Doris Betts, The World and I
“Marvelous . . . The most affecting work of fiction about place and love . . . since A River Runs Through It.” Howard Frank Mosher, The Washington Post Book World
Meet the Author
Fred Chappell is the award-winning author of over twenty books of poetry and fiction. His previous novels include I Am One Of You Forever and Brighten the Corner Where You Are. He teaches at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, where he lives with his wife, Susan.
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