Sharyn McCrumb’s novella, Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past is a must read if you like Sharyn McCrumb books,
stories set in Appalachia, and ghost stories. I’m a fan of all three, so it’s
no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed the novella.
I’ve been a Sharyn McCrumb fan for two decades, having
met her for the first time in Big Stone Gap when the ballad of Frankie Silver
had just been released. We sat next to each other at a luncheon at the John Fox
house that honored the winners of the Lonesome Pine Short Story Contest (I’d
placed second that year and she was the guest speaker). Since then, I've attended readings she's done, heard her speak at the James River Writing Conference, sat next to her in 2010 at Authors on Grayson in Galax and at the 2013 Appalachian Days at the Salem Museum.
She contributed a cover blurb for my Appalachian tale, Ferradiddledumday. But I’m digressing.
One of Sharyn's most dyed-in-the-wool Appalachian characters is Nora Bonesteel, who appears in several of her Ballad novels. Nora Bonesteel has the Sight, handed down through some of the women in her family since they came over from Scotland in the 1700s. Because she has the Sight, she is able to help her neighbors with a little Christmas problem they're having—a problem rooted in the house's past.
Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past is actually two interwoven stories, both taking place on
Christmas eve. In one, Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and his deputy Joe LeDoone (two characters who also appear in other ballad novels) go across
the mountain to arrest J.D. Shull, who’d run into a senator’s car and left the
scene of the accident. The senator, of course, demands an immediate arrest, even though it's Christmas eve.
the other, elderly Nora Bonesteel, is called upon to help out a neighbor couple—the Havertys, who
normally spend Christmas in Florida but decided to stay in the mountains for this
year. When their shrimp-colored aluminum Christmas tree is knocked over two
nights in a row and its flamingo ornaments destroyed, Shirley Haverty thinks the house might
be haunted and hopes Nora can help. Nora, who remembers the house from when she was a girl and it was Judge Honeycutt's home, gives it a try. I won't tell you what happens, but Nora's Sight plays a part.
I won't tell you how the arrest went either, but it has a wonderful O. Henry-esque twist. If you need a little more convincing that you should read the novella, check out an excerpt from Chapter 1 here.
If you ain't from around the Appalachian area, never fear—Sharyn fills you in on Appalachian culture and belief. And she does with such subtlety, you won't even know you're being educated. Two examples:
Weather: "Clabbered sky, said Spencer, peering up at the clouds. Looks like it's going to snow here before too long."
Behavior: When she gave me that check, she didn’t have any notion at all that she might be giving offense, and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by correcting her.
The well-crafted story is rich in detail. The characters are believable. And the dialogue rings true. Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past is a winner!
Here's what a couple of critics are saying about Sharyn McCrumb's Ballad series.
“Ms. McCrumb writes with quiet fire and
maybe a little mountain magic....She plucks the mysteries from people's lives
and works these dark narrative threads into Appalachian legends older than the hills.
Like every true storyteller, she has the Sight.” —The New York Times Book
“There are few writers today who are able to blend past and
present, tradition and law, legends and headlines in a wholly credible
fashion—Tony Hillerman springs inevitably to mind. Sharyn McCrumb is another;
her widely acclaimed Ballad series is one of the finest being written today.” —Bookpage
And here's what my cats are saying about it:
|Dylan: "I liked it very mewch."|
|Tanner: "A good book to curl up with!"|
OK, so maybe the cats didn't actually read the book. But I did, and I really liked it.
|Jim-Bob: "Absolutely purrfect!"|
According to Sharyn McCrumb's publicist, I can "give away one copy of the book to a lucky reader." So, if you'd like a chance to win, leave a comment in the comments section, wherein you tell me what your favorite Sharyn McCrumb book is and why. On Oct. 5, I'll assign each comment a number and one of the cats will pick the winner. (If your contact info isn't available via your signature, please leave your email addy so I can contact you to get your mailing address.)
Labels: Appalachian Lit, book review, reading