Addie: A Memoir

Mary Lee Settle, Author University of South Carolina Press $24.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-57003-284-4
Settle's warm, rich, colorful multigenerational family saga encompasses her great-grandparents' fortune in land, slaves, livestock, coal mines, salt works; her roots in West Virginia's Kanawha River Valley, pioneers' gateway to Kentucky bluegrass country; racial tensions, wars with Indians, the Civil War's legacy--themes and events that have shaped her fiction, notably the epic Beulah Quintet. Two sharply contrasting women dominate: the author's genteel mother, a fiercely determined suffragist, frustrated poet and Southern Democrat in a Republican household, who believed that whites ought to be ""responsible for `colored' people,"" and Settle's emotional, feisty maternal grandmother, Addie, a Church of God Holy Roller who scorned her relatives' ""cold-blooded, straight-backed Presbyterianism."" It was Addie who told Settle about her encounters with ghosts, who took her to a tent revival meeting to heal her eye trouble, who introduced her to a world of myth and poetry that would fuel the Beulah saga. Settle, whose peripatetic girlhood bounced from West Virginia to Kentucky, Florida and Charleston, sometimes romanticizes her family and the South. Yet her incisive account of coming to terms with her family's mixed legacy is shot through with wit, grace and rueful irony, and is punctuated by personal tragedies--an uncle's suicide, another uncle's brutal murder, her grandfather's death under the wheels of a train. Her mellifluous prose and her novelist's gift for setting scenes and delineating characters keeps this memoir flowing like a clear mountain spring. 32 halftones. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/28/1998
Release date: 10/01/1998
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