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A rich and varied collection of stories about seekers of truth, who find it manifests itself in wonderful, humorous, and terrible forms. "One of the South's and indeed the country's finest writers . . . a novelist and poet of great range and talent."--Los Angeles Times.
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.
"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
1. The title is a line from the Southern ballad, "O Shenandoah." How does the tradition of folk song relate to Chappell's method of telling his story?
2. The first sentence of the book, "The wind had got into the clocks and blown the hours awry," suggests that time has changed, and we are about to enter into an unfamiliar world. What sort of world does the book open up for us? How does this world reflect upon the one in which we live oureveryday lives?
3. Each story Jess remembers contains central women characters. What is the role of women in Jess's coming of age? What wisdom do these stories contain that stories about men might not?
4. Farewell, I'm Bound to Leave You is deeply rooted in Southern traditions of storytelling, and in its hill country. Yet the book has a universal feel, transcending its setting and colloquialism. How does Chappell's portrayal of the Kirkman family vary from more "urban" scenes of family life? What do we gain as a result?
5. What will Jess take from his grandmother after she passes on? In the world Chapell has created, how is it possible to keep the past alive for generations to come? If the novel begins as a death vigil, how does it become a celebration of life?
6. How does Chappell's style differ from most contemporary fiction? Chappell is also a poet -- how does that affect his use of language?
7. Jess's father, Joe Robert, is said not to be a good storyteller. In the logic of the novel, does that mean he plays a lesser role than his wife, or Jess's grandmother? What sort of role does he have?
Fred Chappell, in his own words:
On what he wants his fiction to accomplish:
"I was born in the 1930's, and it might as well have been in the 19th century because things have changed so much. If you take a sociology course, you soon learn that the great change in the United States, and certainly in North Carolina, has been the change from a rural to an industrial society, but that's just generalization. In my writing, my job is to make people feel the experience, which the history book doesn't need to do."
On the difference between poetry and fiction:
"If you get up in the morning and write poetry, your IQ rises 15 points for the whole day. Get up in the morning and write fiction, your mind slows down a little bit and you take things a little more philosophically and a little more steadily. Poetry has the intensity of walking through the woods, and fiction has the doggedness of riding a bicycle uphill."
On being a "Southern" writer:
"All writing is regional. It takes place somewhere. It either takes place in a real place, or it takes place in some place where you have had to imagine it . . . What was it that Archimedes said? 'Give me a lever, a place to stand, and I will move the earth.' Well, writing is my lever, the South is where I stand, and I have ambition to move the earth."
On fiction and life:
"Farewell is autobiographical, but it is almost impossible to say how much. What was real becomes fabulous, and what was mythical becomes extremely real . . . I think I've always worked in relative obscurity, and I've come to enjoy that. There's a lot of freedom in that. I always feel, when I sit down to write, the only person I really have to worry about failing is myself."
About his work, Chappell writes, "It's not to moon about the old times passing, but I wanted to write a kind of tribute for a different way of Life. I like the strength of character, the different flavors of speech and manner of living that was produced in the mountains." Chappell grew up on a farm near Canton, North Carolina. He is the author of six novels, two books of short stories, thirteen collections of poems, and three anthologies. His literary awards include a Rockefeller Grant, the Award in Literature from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Best Foreign Novel Prize from the French Academy, the Bollingen Prize, and the T.S. Eliot Award from the Ingersoll Foundation. He teaches literature and writing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.