Moments of Lightby Fred Chappell
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Moments of Light Foreward by Annie Dillard. These stories prove that the mythic powers of the balladeer and the story teller survive even in this fragmented and unmysterious day. In the eleven stories gathered here, Fred Chappell engages and entertains our minds and sends us away singing in our hearts, more knowing, more understanding of ourselves.
Fred Chappell's voice is sure and his vision is keen. As Annie Dillard writes in the foreword: "These are living, vivid narratives whose rich actions lodge in the imagination: world-wise and gentle Mr. Cody blowing up a tree; Norma, the drunk in love with innocence, quoting Shakespeare's sonnets in her ruined rooms; young Rosemary in the hayloft sticking her underpants under the hay; Mrs. Franklin pleased and bewildered at her own dinner party; and Stovebolt Johnson playing the blues in the Blue Dive, carrying himself in the world so carefully, with such thoughtfulness and controlled pain. These stories are as real as days."
Moments of Light reflects the moral nature of man throughout history. In the first story, "The Three Boxes," Chappell writes, as only a poet or a philosopher would, "The lone man was alone"; with that he begins at once to sound the major themes of the book from the creation throught the mostly innocent vision of the Enlightenment to this dark and wearisome time when Stovebolt Johnson, the balladeer in "Blue Dive", works a tavern for beers. The title story points up the end of man's intellectual innocence and the shortcomings of reason alone as the composer Haydn peers through a telescope at the fearsome beauty of the universe and sees dread and hope alike reborn.
Boson Books also offers Moments of Light in print.
Fred Chappell served as Poet Laureate of North Carolina. Boson Books also offers Dagon, It is Time, Lord, and The Gaudy Place by Fred Chappell. For an author bio and photo, reviews, and a reading sample, visit bosonbooks.com.
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.
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