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Well-crafted portraiture from southern novelist Chappell (More Shapes Than One, 1991; Brighten the Comer Where You Are, 1989, etc.), who offers proof that regional fiction is alive and well, and perfectly suited for export up North and farther afield. The first refreshing thing about Chappell is that he knows how to tell a story. The second is that he doesn't pretend to be doing anything else. Ostensibly, the central character here is Granny Sorrells, an elderly North Carolina hillbilly on her deathbed. Granny is surrounded by her kinfolk, but we more or less lose track of her as a character once her grandson Jess starts to reminisce about Granny's stories of the local women she spent most of her life with. We thus learn about ""The Shooting Woman,"" who seduced her husband with her marksmanship; ""The Figuring Woman,"" who became the village soothsayer; ""The Madwoman,"" who lost her wits after an unhappy affair, and so on. Although this concentration on strong, self-reliant backwoods girls brings the novel perilously close to self-parody at times, Chappell is able to provide enough color and credibility to the (easily recognizable) types he works with to rescue them from stereotype, and the old-fashioned and very formal device of giving us a narrator who stands largely outside the action of the tale works nicely to bring us into what ordinarily would be a very strange and disorienting world. To a large degree Chappell, like most regionalists, is attempting to re-create an entire society, and the success with which he does so gives his characters an uncommon depth and texture. Although his rhetoric can get a bit overblown, it usually supports the action and fits the characters. Busy, satisfying, and wholesome: Chappell casts a sharp eye upon a very rich landscape and gives us a portrait as poignant as it is clear.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1996
Page count: 220pp
Publisher: Picador/St. Martin's