Sunday, November 6, 2011

On Agate Hill by Lee Smith

Life is horrible and wonderful at the same time.

I really enjoyed this book, because it works on many levels. First of all, it's a historical novel about the Reconstruction, and fulfills the educational and entertainment requirements of that genre. We learn a lot about the causes and consequences of the Civil War, as well as get a lot of pretty ladies flouncing around in fancy dress. Secondly, the novel is also a stylistic experiment that uses letters and diaries and court testimonies to tell the story. (As well as a goofily comic contemporary frame.) Finally, the
book is about a great central character, Molly Petree, who is a child at the beginning and a very old lady at the end. Although she ultimately leads a life of near constant suffering, she is still full of life and love. In fact, the novel expresses a sort of a philosophy. Despite immense pressure, Molly chooses to be her own person and to be joyful. The writing is uniformly marvelous, lush and vivid and descriptive. The point of this book is all about the Molly’s voice.

There’s no classical arc of plot, in fact, but I didn’t mind. I’d follow Molly anywhere.

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