The struggles of a town in transition reveal ongoing changes in American life.
Making his literary debut, journalist Lingan creates a tender, elegiac portrait of Winchester, Virginia, the Shenandoah town where Patsy Cline made her debut and where honky-tonk—a rueful brand of country music—rang out in working-class dance halls, bars, and clubs. Honky-tonk, writes the author, “is the genre of heartaches, setbacks, and lonely, regret-filled nights. Honky-tonk country is the sound of rural-rooted people taking their first difficult, stumbling steps toward the city, and it is not often the music of triumph.” Jim McCoy, the singer/songwriter who first put Cline on the air and who played guitar for many of her performances, is one of several residents Lingan profiles as he reveals “the never-ending American fight between commerce and culture” experienced by Winchester as it aspired to achieve “tourist-trap respectability” after its demise as the flourishing apple-growing center of the country. McCoy, who had been a popular entertainer, never attained Cline’s success. By the time Lingan met him, he owned a local nightclub where he hosted karaoke and held a summer barbecue featuring smoked meat, a potluck smorgasbord, and a roster of hopeful local performers. Cline’s former home, on the other hand, was turned into a museum, and the town celebrates her in an annual festival. “Patsy,” writes the author, “is the patron saint of people who feel kicked to the curb.” Those people still live in Winchester; those in the lowest economic strata are barely subsisting, with rising real estate prices, health care costs, and intrusive gentrification posing often insurmountable challenges. At McCoy’s summer barbecue, a donation basket collects neighbors’ contributions for his and his wife’s medical bills. At the same time, hefty funding has turned Old Town Winchester into a walking mall, with espresso bars and sleek restaurants. Lingan resists romanticizing Winchester’s rural past; yet, he admits, modernization, change, and loss “is the most American song of all.”
An empathetic look at a community forging its future as it keeps a tenuous hold on its past.