My Old True Love: A Novel by Sheila Kay Adams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A poignant story, both frank and tender, told in an Appalachian voice that rings true—that is My Old True Love: A Novel. Arty Norton Wallin (the narrator) is “mountain,” way down to the marrow of her bones, and I can’t help but think that Sheila Kay Adams is, as well. As I read, I was taken back to a time of Appalachian life and culture even older than the one that I recall—but not without the strong flavor of some Smoky Mountain kin that I do recall. Long review: The story is set in North Carolina, but within spitting distance of Tennessee. It takes place in the Civil War era, but is not just a Civil War story. Rather, it tells of the impact that an outside War had on a mountain people who knew little of the War’s cause until they were inexorably caught up in it. When the heavily foreshadowed tragedy finally plays out, it is very like a ballad of the lives of two cousins, closer than brothers, Hackley and Larkin. The ballad is spoken, not sung, in a voice that is true Appalachia. Arty’s own voice and spirit, in turn, reflect the salt-pepper-and-molasses spirit of a frank-spoken old granny—her grandmother, mentor, and friend. Granny made me laugh and cry. Arty’s dialect is thick, but I had only to search my mind for a real memory of someone whose voice became, for me, Arty’s voice—and from there on out, I “heard” the story in soft and silver tones that rang true. Of molasses, Arty says, “Now them was some of the best I ever put in my mouth” (134). I’ve heard that said many, many times (though usually of greens, biscuits, or dumplings). “I swan,” she says (122). And when I read the interjection, “They law” (84), I had to stop reading and simply marvel at it. It was almost as if my old great aunt was right there in the room with me. The people seemed very real to me. Highly recommended to all still living who watched Appalachia vanish before their very eyes—and further recommended to all who would like a taste of what it once was.
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