A thoroughly entertaining eighth novel from Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies, 1988, etc.) traces the roots of an extended, country-western ``singing'' family from 1830's hollow to contemporary Nashville. The story opens with plans for a country Christmas family reunion at the Opreyland Hotel. Katie Cocker, superstar of country music, is gathering together her famous relatives—from Tampa Rainette, nearly 100 years old and one of the original Grassy Branch Girls, to Rose Annie, whose hit song ``Subdivision Wife'' is based on her own life, leaving her adoring husband for her no-good, rockabilly, childhood sweetheart. (Now she's serving time for his murder.) In the story behind the story, this ``singing'' family- -Baileys, most of them—gets its start in Cold Spring Holler in 1833 when music-loving Kate Malone marries Moses Bailey, a self- styled preacher who thinks the fiddle is the devil's plaything. From that union comes Zeke Bailey, a generous-hearted simpleton, lover of hard work, church meeting, and fiddle-music, who inherits the land on which the Grassy Branch, a twisty little creek, flows. Zeke's offspring, R.C. (actually Zeke's wife's illegitimate son) and Durwood, carry on the musical tradition, each marrying talented women who start the Grassy Branch Girls. The next generation, which includes Rosie, Johnny and Katie, experiment briefly with the Grassy Branch Quartet, a gospel group, before their lives take them away from the hollow on separate (musical) paths. In letting each of her characters tell his story in his own voice, Smith creates a vividly labyrinthine world of family ties in which music is always a part. Clearly she is paying homage to a place and people who have contributed so much to the American music scene. And in so doing she traces the roots and variations of country music, from primitive Baptist hymns and fiddle-playing, to gospel, rockabilly, and contemporary country western. A real treat- -and an education.
Read full book review >