Small-town life is larger than life in this collection of short, true stories detailing the triumphs, foibles, and everyday eccentricities of Claremont, North Carolina.
Smith (The Shoe Burnin’ Stories of Southern Soul, 2013) confesses to being anti-social when she first moved to Claremont, not wanting to leave her house or talk to the neighbors, let alone get involved in committees and activities. But as the stories in the collection unfold, she reveals how she slowly—and somehow, all of a sudden—became a part of the community and grew to deeply love Claremont and its people. Stories run the gamut from musings on her father never teaching her to shoot to town drunks to the friendships between women to what it feels like to have a house burn down. There’s a lot here, and some stories, being small, personal slices of life, can start to feel unnecessary, as when Smith muses about marijuana for the three-page “King of the Wild Frontier” or repeatedly drops names in “Growing Up in Privilege”—not the first or the last instance in the collection. Not including the prologue, there are 45 stories, so the text occasionally veers dangerously into the land of repetition as it fixates on themes of friendship, writing, and how wonderful the town is. However, there are also some real standouts. In “About Peace,” Smith explores death and how people come to terms with it, as well as the reasons for violence and why people fight in wars. In “Matthew,” she summons heartbreaking emotion for the story of the death of one of her son’s friends, while in “Twenty-five Minutes,” she shows her gift for conveying character and the tragedy of time passing. “Food,” another excellent piece, offers up the author’s own passion for trying new things as a metaphor for creativity and the need for a steady diet of inspiration, plaintively trying to hang onto the old while exploring the new.
A mixture of powerful emotion and Southern lift, best in small doses.