Reading Appalachian Fiction
For some reason, I hadn't read one of Sharyn McCrumb's earlier ballad novels, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter. While it was published in 1992 and is out of print (in actual print), an e-version was recently made available—with a beguiling cover.
But I'd recently acquired an old copy, so that's what I read.
The book is flat-out, doggone good! For one thing, the two-sentence opening paragraph could be a lesson in how to write good openers:
Nora Bonesteel was the first to know about the Underhill family. Death was no stranger to Dark Hollow, but Nora Bonesteel was the only one who could see it coming.It includes who (Nora Bonestell, the Underhills), where (Dark Hollow), and what (death, and Nora Bonesteel's ability to see it coming). It piques the reader's interest—how did the Underhills die? and how did Nora know? Since I wanted to know, I kept reading. And reading. I finished the book in two days—with a little encouragement from my kitty friends, Tanner and his sidekick Arlo.
This book is one of McCrumb's ballad series that features Nora Bonesteel, a mountain woman who has "the sight." I'd read about Nora in other books and found her an intriguing character.
Sharyn McCrumb gives an introduction to The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter on her website. Once you read it, you'll want to read the book.
While The Kirkus Review gives a concise summary of the plot, they miss the point on the prose by a country mile. Unlike the Kirkus reviewer, I found McCrumb's prose riveting.
According to the Publisher's Weekly review, "McCrumb weaves Appalachian folklore and death, in natural and unnatural forms, into a story that meanders like a mountain stream through the hills of east Tennessee before rushing to its turbulent conclusion." That pretty much sums it up, but a lot of interconnected events happen in the book, and McCrumb brings them together masterfully.