- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Mercury House; 1st edition (September 1, 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1562790668
- ISBN-13: 978-1562790660
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,080,993 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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In the Mountains of America Paperback – September 1, 1994
The Amazon Book Review
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From Publishers Weekly
The author of three novels set in Appalachia, Willis populates her first collection of 11 stories and one essay with men, women and children fueled by secret passions, and by the act of storytelling itself. "What I love is when the storyteller says simply, 'Just listen to this,'" Willis writes in "My Father's Stories: An Essay," which opens her book. It's no wonder, then, that Willis goes on to let her shop-owning grandmothers and adolescent waitresses draw each other into the histories of their lives with stories. In "Adventures of the Vulture," a local oddball confesses her life secrets to an undertaker in a letter meant to elaborate her eventual funeral arrangements. Secrets are common in these characters' lives. Love affairs and murder fantasies are rarely spoken, but their presence infuses these smart stories with tensions beyond the limits of plot. The two shortest pieces, "Miracle of the Locust Root" and "The Trestle," accomplish the least, not because of their brevity, but because a moral seems forced abruptly on the reader. Elsewhere Willis follows her own advice and lets her stories speak for themselves.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Willis (Only Great Changes, 1985, etc.) offers a pleasant enough potpourri of short stories for lazy hot nights on the back porch rocker, reflecting what's important to their Appalachian characters: living and dying and the proper telling of both. The collection begins with a nonfiction piece that reads almost as a disclaimer: Shed city expectations when you read these- -they are meant to amble through country minutiae and may not pack a punch at the end. In fact, the warning is unnecessary--most of the stories that follow err on the side of being too sophisticated or airtight. The rural mentality resonates in other ways: The ambitions of the characters are as small as the towns they inhabit; blood is thicker than water; education is anomalous; and immortality is won by raising decent children, obeying Christ, and keeping your integrity. These folks don't have much control over the world, but they are determined to remain the sovereigns of their lives. In ``My Boy Elroy,'' an elderly shopkeeper who has lived honestly and eschewed debt fends off the ruffians at her door with sharp wits and a refusal to compromise herself. Similarly, in ``Adventures of the Vulture,'' a dotty old woman known as ``the funeral lady'' plans her own service in a letter to the funeral parlor director so that she will control her destiny. While content is consistent, the forms of the stories vary widely. There is a country yarn, a series of monologues with alternating viewpoints, a letter, and traditional stories focusing on dialogue, description, and meaningfulness (sometimes too strenuously). Of the latter, ``Family Knots,'' where life's passages are measured in the stitches of quilts, is notable. The earth won't move for readers of this modest collection, but the clouds above it will drift slowly and congenially by for a couple of hours. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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and clear-eyed collection of short stories set in Appalachia in
which the reader is invited to shed big city ways, and settle
back--way back like the country people who inhabit these mountain
hollows and tales and who enjoy a good story themselves--and to
"just listen. Listen." Meredith Sue Willis's characters are
worth listening to. Distinctive, quick-witted, and touching,
they, like all of us, are searching to make sense of lives
bounded by family, community, geography and social class.
Willis creates dialogue you can hear, details you can see.
In "The Little Harlots," Roy Critchfield, a ninth-grader,
struggles to reconcile "the raw burden of his body" with his
burgeoning desires and his father's strict religious views. "I
don't chew my cud twice," his father snaps at Roy after his
mother leaves home and refuses his father's angry demand to
return. In "The Birds That Stay" the meaning of a young woman's
death is examined through the four voices of her daughter,
grandmother, father, and mother. Jody Otis, the dead woman's
father, mulls violence. He sits in the kitchen glaring at the
passing thick-soled shoes of his daughter's "pit viper" husband,
Buddy, the man he blames for her death, while Ellen Morgan Otis,
the dead woman's mother, wants only "to feel love for all these
fine pople here today grieving with us," understanding by the
story's end that no matter how strong one's desire to affix cause
and blame to life's tragedies, we dwell somewhere between
darkness and beauty, in an "unknown" middle.
This understanding permeates each of these twelve stories.
In the luminous "Family Knots," we follow Narcissa Foy, a
patchwork quilter, from childhood into middle age as she creates
complex quilting patterns that parallel the unexpected
complexities of her own quiet mountain life. As a child,
Narcissa has always liked "the crazy quilts best . . . following
trails of color wherever they led and then later discover[ing]
shapes that contained [her] discovery." Narcissa bears five
children, the next-to-last a difficult labor. Her breasts become
inflamed and she dreams of a quilt "the color of her struggle to
nourish this baby," a quilt with colors that "trickle and form
paths like veins, twisting, weaaving, plaiding, bursting open
like fireworks or zinnias unfurled"--a pattern called Family
Knots. Its creation ushers in a period of Narcissa's limited
recognition as an artist by city collectors. When Narcissa's
college-educated daughter, Lou, implores her to move to the city
and study art--"It will smother your talent, never leaving here,"
insisted Lou--Narcissa wonders "if she had been smothered, and
allowed it was possible that something had been, but something
else had been made strong." Her destiny has been more than
quilts. It has also been raising a family, stitching together
"the pattern of people"--and she, Narcissa, "was in the pattern."
Some of the stories in In the Mountains of America are
long, some short, some dense, others more like yarns. But all
illuminate a kind of double consciousness, the fact that we know
the world by the stories we tell and we know ourselves through
the creation of these narratives. Willis herself is attracted to
tales that reveal how an event, or landscape viewed from one
vantage point (the New York City skyline, the lights, the war in
Vietnam, in "Evenings with Dotson," a wonderful tale of high
school romance revisited) can be perceived as the opposite from
another's point of view--and even from one's own point of view in
another context. With her ancestral roots in Appalachia and a
present-day family life in New York and New Jersey, Meredith Sue
Willis brings a surprisingly convincing optimism and far-reaching
embrace of cultural differences to her readers.