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Tom Sawyer it's not, though wisdom and humor infuse this straightforward first novel about the encroachment of modern inventions on the isolated lives of a North Carolina mountain family more than 80 years ago. Himself a North Carolina native, member of a family of traditional storytellers, and author of five previous books (Listening for the Crack of Dawn, not reviewed, etc.), Davis takes as his protagonist here an old-timer named Medford Henry McGee, who finds and rereads the diary he kept during the years 1910-13. Age ten when his account begins, young Medford chronicles the lives of his parents, brothers, sisters, and grandpa, as well as the rhythms of rural life, with its courtings, marriages, births, illnesses, chores, lessons in the one-room schoolhouse, and Sunday church picnics. The routine is occasionally broken by the arrival of a new teacher, barn burnings by a local arsonist, or news from the outside world in the paper Medford's father receives. Medford livens up his diary entries with information gleaned from his father's paper. He tells of revolution in Nicaragua, the arrival of airplanes and automobiles, and former president Teddy Roosevelt's elephant hunt in Africa. He makes jokes about elected officials -- ""About the only thing I can remember hearing about President Taft is that he is the fattest President in our history"" -- and in his smart, boyishly honest way comments on current events: ""I think that the reason that Mr. Taft is interested in Nicaragua to start with is to keep trouble away from that canal the USA is digging across Panama."" But this isn't enough to sustain readers' interest. The diary remains just that; Davis takes no risks either with narrative style or characterization. A sentimental journey that never quite soars.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1994
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: August