Brown retells tales of his northwest Alabama family in this historical debut.
The author’s grandfather Clover McKinley Palmer was born in January 1899, the son of Blue John Palmer and Mary Dizenia. The author speculates that Clover’s conception took place in a field of “freshly bloomed purplish clover heads,” inspiring the boy’s unusual name. His grandfather’s legend, he writes, is “like all legends…a convoluted layering of facts and fables.” The opening of this pioneer tale describes Clover’s courtship and secret marriage to the author’s grandmother Cora Lee Goodson, which took place in the shade of a pine tree on a country road. The author then veers off to recount stories of Clover’s forebears; many of these are engaging, such as that of his third great-grandfather Dr. Russell Porter Palmer, who witnessed a cowgirl accidentally shoot her own horse, and his fourth great-grandfather William Mansell, who married a woman named Morning Dove White of the Cherokee Nation. The study is loaded with intrigue—including a familial link to Elvis Presley—and it will likely prove to be a valuable record for the author’s family. However, the execution is weak. The author rejects the use of a linear timeline, and as a result, his focus wanders back and forth between various ancestors, complicating the narrative and making the text difficult to follow. Stylistically, Brown’s writing is conversational but repetitive; for instance, he often draws upon a clumsy kaleidoscope metaphor: “Life is that way and the kaleidoscope within which it is contained may twist and turn in infinite directions.” Six pages later, he writes: “the kaleidoscope twisted and turned over the next decade,” and two pages on, he refers to “destiny’s kaleidoscope.” These references continue throughout and become tiring. The overall lack of organization is epitomized by the book’s idiosyncratic ending, which consists of the lyrics of two ballads followed by recipes and ancestral photographs.
A disorderly work that still offers a few captivating glimpses of pioneer life.