LOOK BACK ALL THE GREEN VALLEY by Fred Chappell

LOOK BACK ALL THE GREEN VALLEY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

You’re probably not human if you don’t laugh out loud and wipe away tears all the way through this delightful continuation of the much-loved North Carolina poet and novelist’s Kirkman saga (Farewell, I—m Bound to Leave You, 1996, etc.). This fourth installment is again narrated by Jess Kirkman, a teacher and poet who has meandered some distance away from his family’s strong roots in the amiable town of Tipton (near Asheville)—as Jess is reminded by his plainspoken mother Cora, whose looming death from congestive heart failure brings him to her bedside, then to the task of ensuring that she and his late father Joe Robert, ten years gone, may be buried together (a fussy local ordinance having created problems). That task becomes a Dantesque journey (Jess has, not so coincidentally, embarked on a translation of the Inferno) to the nearby towns (bearing names like Vestibule, Downhill, and Easy) where the exuberant Joe Robert—a farmer, teacher, and self-taught would-be astronaut—traveled, perhaps doing good deeds, perhaps dallying with a dozen or so unknown women (a “treasure map” Jess finds among his father’s possessions suggests multiple possibilities). Jess’s searches are skillfully juxtaposed against richly detailed memories of his own youth and his father’s prime (the episode describing his tiny sister Mitzi’s abortive venture into prizefighting is a Mark Twain—like gem), and increasingly revelatory visits with the still sharp-witted Cora. The story climaxes at a lively picnic attended by all the Kirkmans’ nearest and dearest, and concludes—as it began—with Jess digging up his father’s coffin (to be moved), and unearthing a wonderful, transfiguring surprise. A work of matchless ingenuity and eloquence—heartwarmingly funny, deeply moving, and populated by a countyful of folks you’ll wish you could meet and get to know. Chappell’s Kirkman novels are among the finest fiction of our time—even if they’re too modest and polite to come right out and say so.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-24215-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1999




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