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Oral History Paperback – August 27, 1996

4.2 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"Delightful and entertaining."

PEOPLE

When Jennifer, a college student, returns to her childhood home of Hoot Owl Holler with a tape recorder, the tales of murder and suicide, incest and blood ties, bring to life a vibrant story of a doomed family that still refuses to give up....

"Deft and assured....[Lee Smith] is nothing less than masterly."

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW


From the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Lee Smith was born in Virginia. She is the author of ten novels and four story collections. She lives in North Carolina and Maine. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (August 27, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345410289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345410283
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #600,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on August 4, 1998
Format: Paperback
In the tradition of her other novels like "Fair and Tender Ladies," this book truly captures the spirit of the mountain people, their lives, and their lore. Smith masterfully creates her characters through the use of mountain dialect, and each one comes alive to the reader in a unique way. The use of details that she has collected from meticulous research on Appalachian lore serves to further the reader's impression that she is truly a master at work. If you liked "Fair and Tender Ladies" then don't miss this one!
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Format: Paperback
This was the first book of Lee Smith's that I read - and still one of my favorites. Two things make Oral History memorable: (1) the accuracy of her portrayal of folk beliefs, the folklore, of the region and (2) a wonderful plot line that is never contrived. It doesn't hurt that Lee Smith has mastered her craft as well. A must read for anyone interested in folklore as a way of life - not a musuem piece. If the Foxfire series is for you, so is this novel.
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Format: Paperback
To complete an assignment for a college class, Jennifer takes her notebook and tape recorder to the tiny mountain town in Virginia where her Mother grew up. She meets family members and learns of a mysterious curse that has followed them for generations. Her grandfather and her great-aunt actually left their mountain cabin because of ghostly screams and noctural visitations. Jennifer learns about herself as she chronicles the lives of her ancestors.
This is a beautifully written, absorbing story. Characters are fully developed and Smith captures the character and the hard life of the Appalachian mountaineer with sensitivity and empathy, not without sending a chill or two up the reader's spine.
Here's a world you may not know but if it's a familiar one, you may see it with new insight after reading ORAL HISTORY.
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Format: Paperback
This is the only Lee Smith book I've read, so comparisons with other Smith books are impossible.
The story traces the history of an Appalachian family from the late 19th century to the late-mid 20th century. It is told from various points of view, by various characters, at various times, resulting in a book which on the surface might seem "downright Faulknerian." However, Smith's main concern is the story and not the experience of reading it (which could, on some level, be said of Faulkner's literary goals), hence readings don't have to wrestle with the language. That being said, readers unfamiliar with the grammatical and lexical idiosyncracies of Appalachian English might sit scratching their heads at some of the characters' utterances, but the language is far from incomprehensible.
"Oral History" offers a view into a period and location that, until recent years, has remained fairly secluded. It's a pleasurable and rewarding read.
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Format: Paperback
The language is beautiful. She uses it to really bring us into the minds of the characters, who vary immensely in their personalities. That in itself is a joy to read - to observe the differences between the upper-class educated romantic self-involved young man who travels to this remote area, and the dutiful spinster whose inner passions have not been wholly untapped, and the 12-year-old boy on the day he becomes a man by killing pigs and drinking rotgut. You will probably fall in love with at least one of these characters.
The stories follow a family's history from post-Civil War era up to the 80s. I agree with the reviewer who said the book was terribly disjointed, which is its major flaw and it took me three months to finally push through to the end. The first section of the book is really fascinating, dwelling in the supernatural. But then it abandons its supernatural mystery and never really comes back to answer it. That was a great disappointment for me.
Still, for love of the language and the characters, I can recommend this book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First, let me start off by saying, I LOVE LEE SMITH. I think she's an incredible writer, and I'm certainly not alone in this. The New York Times Book Review said of Lee (in a blurb on the cover of Oral History): "She is nothing less than masterly." The NYTBR people not only didn't HAVE to say that, they got paid for their honesty. So, she's great. End of that debate.

I've read a few of her books now, including Fair And Tender Ladies (still my fav) and Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger (which is NOT, thank God, another Jane Austen knock-off book, which I feared it might be, given the title and recent fiction's penchant for such). Smith has a keen ear for details of language, both in her narratives and her dialog. She is unique in her accurate (sometimes painfully so) portrayal of mountain life, people, and their speech. I love that Smith can really give us the dirt on these communities, real dirt, not just the topsoil you get in a lot of regional books. Many "Southern" books sound as if they are written by someone who has spent very little time in their locale, someone who just toured through town on a Saturday, ate at a cute little diner, and then picked up a brochure at the Chamber of Commerce before heading out of town to go write about it all. Smith's love, respect, criticisms, and fears for and about the mountains where she places her stories are all apparent in each and every line.

So this book, Oral History, falls right in line with the kind of depth and authenticity I've come to expect from Smith. She follows one twisted family tree (one that crosses its own branches a couple of times, if you get my drift) through hard times, farming, coal mining, disaster, and city-slicker school teachers (a disaster in their own right).
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