Turgenev meets Mark Twain in these lyrical, acutely observed recollections wherein the author narrates his Carolina past, unearthing mountains of memories and ties that bind.
Snyder is a crack observer, and this debut memoir is at once a reverie of rural life, an ode to men’s crafts and boyhood’s treasures, and a cool refraction of the full-blooded Carolinians who hunted, fished and farmed their patch under the final sunset of the Old South. Snyder spent his early years in the cabin his father built on Cedar Mountain, N.C., where quail roamed and trout peppered the streams. In 1939, his father built a resort inn that bustled for one glorious summer then fell to an arsonist’s match. John and a brother were soon sent to live with two maiden aunts in Greenville, S.C., for school but learned more about needlepoint, roosters and bigotry. When the family purchased a sharecropper farm in Walhalla, S.C., in 1943, adventures in hoeing and animals began in earnest. John’s father, Ted, was a man for all seasons, adept with a poem as well as a gun and a saw, and the narrative sparkles with his vernacular—the winsomely meaningless “consnoggerating” is a term only a 1940s father could invent. Young John tried to live up to his father’s polymathic example with tools and inventions of his own, while simultaneously adoring a succession of lovely teachers and studying his world with a fine boy’s eye. The result is this book of miniatures, crafted with care and delivered with candor and heart. Each set piece—a burgling collie, a woman who lost her face to the wind, a most unfortunately ill-timed bowel movement—lends gravitas to the author’s spectacle of family and humanity below the Mason-Dixon Line. Snyder is hardly the first Southerner to have wondered aloud: Who are my people? But his answer is rich and original. Or as his father might have said—big as the moon and deft as a cat.
A finely detailed tableau of the lost Carolinas and a book for the boy in all of us.