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Sins of the Seventh Sister: A Novel Based on a True Story of the Gothic South Hardcover – April 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140004538X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400045389
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,253,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nestled in a web of murder, rape, abuse and adultery is the often happy and always loving home of Huston ("Hughie") Curtiss. His memoir, which roots itself in the events of 1929, when he's only seven years old, reveals a slice of the eccentric life of one white West Virginian family. Hughie's mother, the powerful, progressive and indefatigable Billy-Pearl, heads the family and has a knack for attracting the desperate and destitute. She adopts a motley crew, including a castrated orphan who becomes a successful opera singer, a black family running from the KKK and a homeless schoolteacher. The seventh of 11 daughters, Billy tries her best-with the help of her ever-expanding extended family-to eradicate prejudice, abuse and poverty. Together the extended family struggles through the '29 stock market collapse and the dangerous racism plaguing the South, resorting to measures as drastic as murder to keep themselves safe. Hughie's seven-year-old's perspective-from which much of the book is written-often colors the tale. Like other children his age, Hughie sees his mother as larger than life and capable of saving the world. But this bias is tempered by Hughie's slight resentment toward her as he vies for her attention. The author draws himself as a sometimes selfish but caring child who has to learn that the world needs Billy as much as he does. This vibrant and unsentimental account intertwines the fates of dozens of unique characters and moves smoothly from one remarkable-and often unbelievable-story to the next.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The seventh sister of the title is Curtiss' mother, Billy Pearl, the seventh out of 10 daughters. An unconventional woman, to say the least, Billy ran the family farm in West Virginia after she separated from Curtiss' father, an alcoholic and a philanderer. Curtiss was only seven in 1929 when Billy took in Stanley, a quiet, 16-year-old boy who murdered his abusive father and was castrated on the order of a cruel judge. Determined to give Stanley a good life, Billy taught him to be a horse trainer and also indulged his desire to sing--dressed up as a woman. Billy constantly championed the rights of the oppressed and fought against the Ku Klux Klan members plaguing the area. When necessary, Billy went as far as committing murder. Alhough Curtiss purports in the introduction to tell the story of his life growing up with Stanley, who later became the famous opera singer Stella Roman, most of his memoir is devoted to his extraordinary mother and her eccentric family. A quirky, unique look at a bygone era. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
5 star
76%
4 star
18%
3 star
0%
2 star
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1 star
6%
See all 33 customer reviews
This book was well written.
Amazon Customer
After i started reading this book i could not put it down.
Sarah J. Siatkosky
This was such a sensational story!
Erin McCartney

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I came across an incredible review by Kevin Allman for this book in last Sunday's Washington Post Book World. It described the book as "exceedingly readable, literarily suspect and highly entertaining in a scrape-your-jaw-off-your-shoes style" and went onto say that "Sins of the 7th Sister is like an extended visit from an eccentric uncle who unrolls all the best family stories like a fascinating patchwork quilt; no matter how many tales he relates and how far they stretch credulity, you always wish he would tell just one more. Like his celebrated mama, Huston Curtiss is too much pork for just one fork." Since the review was so great I decided to take a chance; I bought the book and read it in one day. The review was on the spot! This was an amazing read. I would highly recommend it to anyone, but especially to the more discerning reader.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By KatPanama on June 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've spent most of the day reading this fabulous (and I mean that literally for once) book which is wondrously readable; it ain't just finest kind, it's beyond that. Mega superb, blast off your socks!
Rumor has it the book was originally written as a memoir; wow, that really knocks off socks! Memoir, novel, whatever, it's finest kind of reading bar none. I am talking the kind of reading that holds you glued to the chair and your fingers flipping pages. There's such a conflagration of action and compassion in this book, the reader doesn't know where to turn, except for MORE of the book.
Horse lovers will love this book, as will farm lovers; historians will have a veritable ball; students of political science will be enthralled; religious enthusiasts will have grist; as will cooks who love to cook and can; weavers and seamtresses who adore their art; orchard (especially apple) aficionados will be thrilled. I swear, everything in this book is up someone's/everyone's alley at least thrice or more. Finest kind, indeed.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Tere on March 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This was a great Southern gothic read, audacious, full of the murder and mayhem that the description promises. What I've found most intriguing is the fact that Curtiss changed many, but not all, details about the people and events described, because now I'm curious to know what parts are real, and for those for which he took creative license, what the real details were. Figuring out the real story would be one great mystery to solve!
One thing I know for sure: Booklist's review is dead wrong on one account: it states that Stanely became the famous opera singer Stella Roman. Not true. Curtiss said in an interview with Wild Child Publishing that Stanley's real female name was NOT Stella, and that in real life she became a country-western singer. I could only imagine how they came to that conclusion.
Now, if I could only figure out the rest....
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sarah J. Siatkosky on May 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I was at the book store, five minuets to closing, and i saw the title of this book and grabbed it in hopes that i did not choose a bad book. I have read books before, but never really got into them. After i started reading this book i could not put it down. The stories were wonderful, and the fun never stops, there were sad parts, funny parts, the whole book was great. it's the book that triggered me to read more often. I JUST finished it, and will read it again, i have my family reading it, i'll give it to my kids when they are old enough. My uncle lives where it took place, and i'm going to look for where the farm was and all the land marks, and the graves of the Curtiss family, if you read the book they talk alot about the graves. It's the best book i think i shall ever read. Highly recommend it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mercedes J. TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book has been sitting on my wish list for well over a year. The whole 'Story of the Gothic South' thing was holding me back. I was expecting something dark and disturbing. Instead I got what is now one one of my all-time favorite books.

Huston Curtiss was 7 years old in 1929, living on a farm in West Virginia with his beautiful do-gooder mother, and about 15 other people that his mother took in to live with them in their huge home. What I loved about this book was that it has it all. Murder, suicide, love, heartbreak, trans-gender, racial tensions, mistresses, and good 'ol southern charm.

The fact that this is a true story is amazing to me. This is Mr. Curtiss's story of his childhood...and you couldn't make this stuff up. What these people had to deal with in those days...no thank you. While most of the story takes place in 1929, he does take you further into the future, up to 1967, and explains what became of everyone, which I appreciated.

In the end, I can't recommend this book enough. It was funny, sad, tragic, heroic...everything you could possible get out of a book, you get out of this one. I'm so glad I finally got this off my wish list and read it...although I am dying to know what Stanley/Stella's real name is!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By disheveledprofessor on October 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
When I saw this book I was intrigued, as I had gone to college in Elkins. It sounded a lot like "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", but purported to be true -- how could I know so little of it?

The story IS intriguing. The end was weak -- everything was rushed, and tied up too neatly. But that is a minor flaw: for most of the book you are entranced with the story and the characters. A "good read".

For those of you who have been wondering about how much of the story is true, I can offer a couple of tidbits:

**There is indeed a statue of a senator in Elkins, affectionately referred to as "the iron horse". The senator was Henry G. [Gassaway] Davis, who was also President of the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway Company; he died in 1916, much earlier than in the novel.

**A college was indeed built on the senator's land: both Senator Davis and his son-in-law, Senator Stephen B. [Benton] Elkins donated property for the establishment of a college. The college, Davis & Elkins College, is associated with the Presbyterian Church, and was founded in 1904, again much earlier than in the novel [and before the death of Senator Davis or Senator Elkins (Senator Elkins died in 1911)]. The two properties, Halliehurst [named after Hallie Davis Elkins, daughter of Senator Davis & wife of senator Elkins] & Graceland [home of Senator Davis] remain focal points of the campus.

{As a humorous sidelight, in the late 60s, there were still aged residents of the area who swore that the James brothers weren't slain in Missouri, but hightailed it to West Virginia and assumed the new personae of Davis and Elkins.}

**There is an annual Mountain State Forest Festival held in Elkins since 1930, and is held on the college campus. Queen Sylvia is crowned [remember the Latin word for "forest" is "silva"].

But we're astray. Fiction, or exaggerated truth, this is a gripping read.
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