TUCKER PFEFFERCORN: An Old Story Retold by Barry Moser


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As he did with The Tinderbox (1990), Moser sets a story based on ""Rumpelstiltskin"" in Appalachia and updates its themes. Bessie Grace Kinzalow is no feckless maiden; she's a self-reliant young Widow who earns a living picking cotton. Her oppressor is local tyrant Hezakiah Sweatt (a mine- and landowner whose ""thugs"" killed Bessie's husband), who overhears an inventive storyteller saying that Bessie can spin cotton into gold. Sweatt demands that she prove it or lose her baby; she's rescued by a little man who spins the gold, causes Sweatt's mysterious disappearance (""Some said he was done in by a bunch of miners...""), demands the baby as pay, but splits in two when Bessie guesses his name. Though the old tale and injustice in the rural South make rather odd companions (Moser's story has dramatic energy and a good oral lilt, but its darker added import seems obscure), the watercolor portraits of the principals are outstanding -- mellow codgers trading tales; grim Sweatt in pin-stripes and suspenders, the essence of cold evil; plausible little Tucker Pfeffercorn, not really as nice as he seems. Worth pondering.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: "Little, Brown"