The cadence of the heart is pure poetry when Southern writers such as Rick Bragg and Lee Smith write of home. Lee Smith tells her story, her life story, her writing story, in the beautifully written collection of essays, Dimestore: A Writer's Life.
Born in a town surrounded by mountains in southwest Virginia, Grundy, Lee Smith celebrates the town where her father owned the dimestore, and her mother raised her to leave. While her mother, who was "not from around here", no matter how long she lived there, tried to raise her to be a lady, teaching her proper manners and sending her to relatives in the summer, Smith grew up with a love of mountain music, Appalachian culture, and the town and people who raised her. And, why not? While her parents both suffered from occasional bouts of depression and mental illness, relatives would take her in. And, in the South, it was just accepted that family members would go away for a spell to get better, and someone would handle the dimestore or take care of the child while they were away.
Smith talks about always wanting to be a writer, finding her voice. And, she talks about all the experiences that made her the writer she is today, from living with her parents' illnesses, to dealing with her own son's schizophrenia, and the aftermath of his death. As tragic as those may seem, she also celebrates light and life, nature, and writing, the authors she met and loved, and reading and writing books.
For the reader, there is poetry in Smith's writing. My favorite passage is the opening of "Lightning Storm". "When I was a child, books brought my deepest pleasure, my greatest excitement. Reading, I often felt exactly the way I felt during summer thunderstorms: I just had to run out of the house and up the mountain into the very storm to whirl in the thunder and rain on the rocky top while lightning cracked all around me." Ahhh. But, I also loved what she had to say about community in the short section about Thanksgiving and baseball games. And, what reader can resist an essay called "A Life in Books"?
Lee Smith shares her life in intimate essays, poetry for the soul. There are so few writers whose prose is lyrical and magic. The ones who move me are often essayists, often Southern writers. Lee Smith is one of those magical ones who shares her gift with her collection, Dimestore: A Writer's Life.
Lee Smith's website is www.leesmith.com
Dimestore: A Writer's Life by Lee Smith. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2016. ISBN 9781616205027 (hardcover), 202p.
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