ROWAN'S PROGRESS by James McConkey

ROWAN'S PROGRESS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Leisurely ponderings upon the history of the small Kentucky town where McConkey (Literature/Cornell; Kayo, 1987; To a Distant Island, 1984, etc.) once taught. McConkey speaks here of Rowan County, Kentucky, site of the Rowan County War--a feud between John Martin and Craig Tolliver, a ""ruthless killer and bully"" whose brother was shot by Martin in a saloon. This feud became so violent--even for Kentucky--with two dozen killed and many more injured, that in 1888 the state legislature proposed to abolish the county unless the fighting stopped. Unfortunately, McConkey's account of the feud is so convoluted, with so many shifting alliances and personalities, that it will befuddle all but the most intrepid. Transcriptions of local folk songs and snippets from newspapers and military reports only add to the confusion. The author does, however, limn tolerable biographies of Frank and Phoebe Button, who founded Morehead State College, where McConkey taught as a young man. And as McConkey progresses to the present in this informal chronicle, his people begin to breathe, particularly Claire Louise Caudill, a physician descended from Tolliver and still practicing at the age of 75--with the aid of her nurse of 30 years, Susan Halblieb. Caudill, dedicated to obstetrics, had her mettle tested as soon as she hung out her shingle in 1948. Immediately after a record snowfall, she was summoned to deliver a baby at a home deep in the hills; she and Halblieb drove as far as their car would permit, and then ""were met by a man driving two horses hitched to a wooden sled....They arrived at the one-room shack a little past midnight. The only heat came from a tiny drum stove."" A bit like viewing pictures of someone else's relatives--provoking mild interest or a suppressed yawn.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Pantheon