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Showing 1-10 of 103 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 161 reviews
on January 17, 2017
Set in the mountains of Virginia, this sweeping novel tells the story of Ivy Rowe beginning in 1914 when she was a young teenager living on a farm way up on the mountain with her sisters and brothers and her father is lying in front of the fire slowly dying. When he does die her mother does what she can to keep the farm going because the farm had been in the family for generations and she wanted to keep it up for her eldest Victor, who has left to go work in a lumber mill. Her next oldest brother, Clarence Wayne, or Babe, who is half of the twins with the other half being Silvaney, is evil, while Silvaney suffered brain damage after a childhood illness is quite simple and loves to traipse about in the forest. Her older sister Beulah dreams of something better, while Ethel is a born talker and saleswoman. Garnie her younger brother is known as the preacher due to his obsession with revivals. Her mother came from a well off family and married for love and was cut off from that family when she did so. Red hair and tempers run in the family.

Beulah becomes pregnant with the town boy Curtis Bostick's child, but whose mother won't let him have anything to do with her. So Beulah has the child and names it John Arthur after their father who was being buried the day the child was born. The description of the funeral and burial rites for a mountain person at this time are very interesting. For example, you are buried in your burial quilt with coins on your eyes.

When Ivy's mother cannot keep the farm going they pack up and move into a bed and breakfast run by Geneva. At this time it's only Ivy and Garnie, because circumstance has led the others in different directions. Garnie come under the influence of a corrupt revival preacher and Ivy at the age of fourteen becomes pregnant, just as she is offered the opportunity to further her education at a nice school in Boston. Now she has to drop out of school to raise her child. When her mother dies, Ivy and Rose go to live with Beulah and it is there that she meets up again with Oakley Fox the first boy she kissed back on Star Mountain. But there's a much more interesting man who has her eye now.

This book is told through a series of letters written to various people in Ivy's life. The unusual thing about this book is that there are no response letters. You are dependent on what Ivy says in her letters to figure out what has happened or is being said by the other person. Also, the language of the book is quite written quite backwoods at the beginning but it improves as her education improves across the novel. It is quite creatively done. Ivy is quite the firecracker and grabs life by the horns and does not let go. She makes mistakes but she does not necessarily regret them. I fell in love with this spirited character who reaches out to the reader connects with you in a very basic way. She will steal your heart away and take it back up into the mountains where she can only live.

A body can get used to anything except hanging.

-Lee Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies p 227)

And I will tell you the truth—may be it’s best to be the lover, some ways. Because even if you don’t work out, you are glad. You are glad you done it. You are glad you got to be there, anyway, however long it lasted, whatever it cost you—which is always plenty, I reckon.
-Lee Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies p 272)

I used to be a scandal myself. Now I’m an institution.
-Lee Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies p 281)
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on May 26, 2015
My first thought was that this book is going nowhere. Then I thought of writer Lee Smith having to remember the misspellings and her computer page must have lots of red lines under words. As I read on, I got used to 'Ivy's' style. (It did improve.) The novel is in the form of letters written by Ivy to friends and family over a 70 year period of her life from her small West Virginia home. It includes the history of the 20th Century; the depression, world wars up to the seventies and the characters who were all part of these events. It was an enjoyable book getting to know Ivy, her kin, friends, lovers and enemies through the letters.
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on September 9, 2016
Such a beautifully written story. Ivy Rowe, grows up in Appalachia poor but with a passion for reading, language and the beauty of nature. Beginning in the early 1900's, she tells her story through a series of heartfelt letters to various acquaintances and her long-dead sister.
Through grinding poverty, heartbreak, death of loved ones, and, most of all; passionate love for her husband as well as other men, but mostly for her children, Ivy will grow in your heart and mind.
I loved this book so much. This wild and intelligent, passionate and curious girl grows into a strong and woman, sometimes passive, mostly feisty.
Please read it! This is one of my all time most unforgettable literary characters.
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on May 22, 2013
Lee Smith's seventh novel, Fair and Tender Ladies (1988) consists of a series of letters written by Ivy Rowe Fox to members of her family--which includes her eight brothers and sisters--from three locations in Virginia: Sugar Fork, Majestic, and Diamond.

The novel begins in Sugar Fork, a "hollow" in which her parents eke out a living on a hardscrabble farm. Ivy Rowe, 17, a feisy girl with red hair and freckles, has a "love child," the first of her many amorous adventures.

A tragic firedamp explosion in the Diamond coal mine causes Ivy to muse, "Life is nothing but people leaving." One is reminded of the litany found in the Book of Genesis: "he was born, he begat, and he died." Fair and Tender Ladies is an extended chronicle of such inevitable losses.

Later in this epistolary novel, Ivy laments, "Everybody has took [sic] everything out of here--first the trees, then the coal, then the children." (Lee Smith writes in the vernacular of Appalachia, with its frequent misspellings.)

Ivy learns new perspectives on life the hard way--by chasing after the fool's gold of sensuous pleasures. A young woman with a smoldering libido, she becomes involved with a "back-door man"--a man who goes out the back door while the woman's husband comes in the front door.

Looked at objectively, the entire novel is Ivy's apologia for her licentiousness, a desperate attempt to justify her lustful ways, which, she insists, are caused by her (God-given?) nature.

Regardless of how readers assess Ivy's checkered career, one fact is plain: Lee Smith is a consummate storyteller. Her artistry both attracts us to and repels us from the protagonist. Ivy's tortured pilgrimage exemplifies "the way of all flesh"--the tragi-comedy we call life.

Lee Smith was born in Grundy, Virginia, in 1944. She is the author of 12 novels and four collections of short stories. Fair and Tender Ladies is arguably her best work.
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on July 11, 2017
Where has Lee Smith been all my life. She is a national treasure and so is her character Ivy Rowe. Ms. Smith has fleshed out Ivy in her actions and speech until I feel that I know her personally. Through Ivy's written letters at the beginning and through the speeding years to the very last one I became attached to the lovely mountain girl Ivy Rowe. In fact I became quite fond of her. Beautiful book and characters, beautiful language, poetically longing without being overly sentimental. Marshall L Dell
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on June 28, 2017
The story kept my attention and aroused deep feelings about the struggles each of us faces. Ivy is like no one I have known. Independent, very smart, an avid reader, a free spirit, a great lover. She did not want to hurt those she loved and she did not care what anyone else thought of her actions. Ivy is bigger than life and loved with great passion. Life in the mountains of Virginia is cruel and beautiful beyond imagination. 40 years of change running parallel with other lives across America.
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on May 27, 2017
Yes, this book most definitely met my expectations! I have been reading her books 📚 since she began to publish her stories. My only complaint is that she doesn't publish her wonderful books more often, particularly those about the people and places of southwest Virginia where she was born and raised.
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on March 16, 2017
The writing of this engaging story is just so beautiful.
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on March 20, 2016
I loved this book and the main character, Ivy. She tells you about her life in chronological order in a phonetically spelled mountain dialect through letters she has written to her family and friends over the years. Ivy was born in the Appalachian Mts in Virginia and lives there all her life. You see the beauty of the mountains and its isolated culture through her descriptions of her home. Her childhood dream was to grow up to be a writer about love. And this is what she achieves in her letter writing over her lifetime. Each letter tells a story of another kind of Love.
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on July 29, 2016
One of the best books I have read in a long time. I cannot adequately express the range of emotions evoked by the characters in this book and the depth of the personality of the main character caused me to think and question and at last, to understand. I like books that help me to grow in understanding of human nature. This is the kind of book that help the reader to grow in human kindness, if allowed.
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