- Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Ballantine Books (June 1, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0345383990
- ISBN-13: 978-0345383990
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 161 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #539,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Fair and Tender Ladies (Ballantine Reader's Circle)
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From Publishers Weekly
Readers will be thoroughly captivated by Ivy Rowe, the narrator of this epistolary novel, and will come to the end of her story with a pang of regret. Smith ( Oral History , Family Linen ) has produced her best work here, creating a fully rounded heroine and other vivid characters who inhabit Virginia's Appalachia region. The letters begin around the turn of the century when Ivy is a child living with eight siblings on the family farm on Blue Star Mountain. Written with quaint misspellings and in the vernacular of Southern speech, the missives reflect the harsh poverty of farm life, as well as the simple beauties of the land: "This is the taste of spring," her father tells Ivy, and she never forgets it, even when the family must move to the boom town of Majestic after her father's death. Ivy's talent as a budding writer is recognized early on, but just as she is about to realize her dream of going North to school, she is betrayed by her passionate nature. Though pregnant and "ruint," she marries a childhood friend who takes her back to the family homestead, where she bears several children and endures the endless toil of a farmer's wife. Just when life seems drearily predictable, she succumbs in middle age to an irresistible passion that brings tragic consequences. Ivy is a woman of bewitching appeal and endearing faults: bright, with a poet's eye and soul; spunky, impetuous, sensual and proud. Following her heroine over seven decades, Smith conveys the changing conditions of life in Appalachia, during which time, as Ivy laments, "everybody has took everything out of herefirst the trees, then the coal, then the children." In the old tradition of oral storytelling, Smith has fashioned a dramatic, magical, poignantly true-to-life tale. Literary Guild selection.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From School Library Journal
YA-- Ivy Rowe, Virginia mountain girl, then mother, wife, and finally, "Mamaw," writes letters "to hold on to what is passing." Her story tumbles out in words that are colloquial and sometimes misspelled as she pens letters to her family and friends throughout her long life. Although her attendance at school is sparse, the teachers encourage her, believing that she is exceptionally gifted in language. As a teenager, she thinks that she does not want to have children "as they will brake your hart." But have them she does, a process which makes her "bones screech," but she comes to see that "children swell up your heart." She learns the difference between lust, "a fiery hand in the vitals" (as in Jane Eyre, a book to which she often refers), and love, which she finds with her husband Oakley. Readers will savor many passages of this novel. On the electrification of Bethel Mountain ("a lovely lady's necklace laid out"), or the invention of birth control pills ("the greatest thing since drip dry"), and many other matters, Ivy writes with a verve and immediacy which prove that her creator, Lee Smith, is a storyteller supreme.
- Keddy Outlaw, Harris County Public Library, Houston
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
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)
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.
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.