A BALLAD FOR HOGSKIN HILL by James Forman

A BALLAD FOR HOGSKIN HILL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

When David Kincaid leaves school in Detroit to return to his hillbilly family, he finds them all fighting an encroaching strip-mining machine which threatens to gobble up the family property under the dubious legality of a generations-old ""long-form"" deed. The way of David's strong grandmother, Zorah, is that of letters to Congressmen and organized sit-ins; her moonshiner husband Jason simply plays blind and plays the welfare game from every angle; while David's father Samson fights the machine directly with brave but futile midnight attacks in the company of his Cherokee friend Bull Bait. The family's good fight is commonplace as a fictional situation and Forman's uncomplicated plot isn't much strengthened by David's not-too-pressing conflict between fighting for the land and going off to New York with attractive Fran from Detroit, who is sure David can make it big with his native banjo. Forman's people tend to be ""characters"" in the sense that one says of an old geezer ""he's a real character""--but they give the story its vitality and its direction, and there's an expansive, larger-than-life humor and humanity to their unlikely valor. Among the cast, Bull Bait, who has ""the blood but not the upbringing"" for the role, plays Indian to the hilt, but serves the roast dog at his shanty/lodge with real silverware and gravy stirred up in La Machine. David's enormous, placid Ma does nothing but eat and watch TV while outrageous action occurs around her. His sister Sharon manages to reproduce happily with only the minimum necessary male contact. His speechless, witless younger brother supports them all with his gathered ginseng and finds the buried Confederate treasure which, though not what the family had dreamed of for generations (it's paper, not gold), does get David the truck he needs for a final assault on the mining machine. And neighbor Verna, illiterate and toothy and low-class but also loyal, devoted, and full of grit, helps him place the dynamite that will bring at least a temporary victory over the coal company. You come to like and line up with the lot of them, and they generate some hare-brained, hairy scenes.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1979
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux