Saturday, June 5, 2010

Kinfolks

A couple weeks ago I went to Library Staff Conference which featured the Kentucky author and KY Poet Laureate for 2009-2010, Gurney Norman. He read a chapter from his collection of short stories, Kinfolks. This guy was fascinating in the way old men--quick with a joke and full of wisdom if peppered with some questionable content. I decided then and there to make some of his work part of my book challenge, starting with Kinfolks.

Kinfolks is a collection of stories concerning the family life of Wilgus Collier set in Eastern Kentucky (I'd say it's rural, but really there isn't an "urban" part of Eastern Kentucky). Wilgus's male kinfolk have ties with coal mining, and a strong Appalachian vibe runs through the book. If this book had been written by outsiders it would be mocking, but instead it just rings true. It feels small town life. You barely bat an eye at 13 year old Wilgus driving his passed-out uncle home in the middle of the night after 4 beers and a shot of whiskey. It's horrific to put it all together like that, but on the page it's just what needed to be done. But as Miss Marple and countless others have shown rural and small-town experience tends to distill the complexities of life. Arguments over what should be done with an aging parent in the '50s ring true to modern ears as it would have with the '70s audience as does the family argument over whether Chevys are better than Fords that devolves into paying back old debts to maintain the upper hand that ultimately ends with giving the money to Wilgus so he and his writer friends can toast "To the Clan!"

And that kind of sums up the collection: head-shaking turns to quiet smiles at the truth of life. What are you going to do but toast "To the Clan!"?

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