A Still Small Voice

John Reed, Author
John Reed, Author Delacorte Press $23.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-33405-1
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-385-33406-8
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The simple, homespun narrative voice of elderly Alma Flynt establishes the tone of this often cloying historical novel. Alma looks back on her childhood in a small Kentucky town from 1859, when she is seven, to the late 19th century, having survived the Civil War and many of life's vicissitudes. An innocent, beautiful and unsullied orphan, she evolves into an innocent, beautiful and unsullied young woman. As Kentucky is a neutral state, some of the families in the town of Cotterpin Creek are pro-Union while others are Confederates, but all are as honorable as they are one-dimensional. Similarly, the slaves and ex-slaves who occasionally make appearances invariably wear their hearts of gold on their sleeves and carry themselves with a quiet dignity born of inner strength. Horses are the most prominent symbol in this book, and just as his canny characters find a use for every part of the possums and pigs they kill during hard times, so Reed manages to squeeze every last drop of meaning from his various equines, who represent slaves, human nature and just about everything else. Even when Alma is a child, she possesses a mystical moral certainty that serves as a convenient alternative to any character development. Describing her first childhood meeting with her future true love, she remarks, ""I believe it was that when he saw me, and I saw him, our two souls lightened, and curled up together, rising on a breeze as faint as a horse's breath."" Simplistic and sentimental, the narrative is at best a quick summer read. (Aug.)
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