Sunday, May 22, 2016

Prayers the Devil Answers by Sharon McCrumb

The opening of Sharon McCrumb's Prayers the Devil Answers takes readers into the superstitions and  traditions of the people who live in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. But, that opening, as unusual as it is, is only a small element in McCrumb's novel. Instead, this is a story of a woman's strength and determination as she holds on to her family during the Depression. Along the way, that woman's story collides with an earlier Appalachian curse.

"Magic has rules, but she broke them." Celia was just one of a group of six teenage girls who participated in the tradition of the Dumb Supper, hoping to see the face of the man she would marry. But, she was the only one who broke the rules. And, years later when tragedy struck, one of the participants thought that Celia was cursed because of that night.

By the time Ellendor Robbins heard that story it was just another story to tell about a condemned man. Ellen and her husband, Albert, along with their two sons, had moved from the mountain farm they shared with family so they could make it on their own. But, it wasn't easy for a mountain man to move into town during the 1930s. There was little work, and Albert wasn't one to be cooped up. So, he signed on as a deputy sheriff, and, when the sheriff was shot and killed, Albert ran as his replacement. He wasn't in the job long before he too was struck down. But, Albert dies of pneumonia,  leaving Ellendor, a thirty-six-year-old widow, who needs to make a living to support her family. She's educated enough to do paperwork, so she forces herself to overcome her shyness to ask to be interim sheriff.

Ellendor Robbins and her four deputies handle the day-to-day small crimes of a small mountain community. But, when Celia's story, and a killer, collide with the new sheriff's story, she faces an unusual problem. Only the sheriff, even a woman, can execute a condemned man in Tennessee.

Sharyn McCrumb has always has a way with the language and stories of the mountains. In this case, she brings superstition and the true story of a female sheriff together in a powerful story. It's powerful because of her portrayal of Ellendor Robbins as a woman who pushes pass her weaknesses in order to  support her family. The character of Ellendor develops during the course of the story, and she recovers the courage and strength she once showed as a schoolgirl.  More than anything, this is a story of one woman during the Depression, one woman's determination.

McCrumb leaves the reader wanting more, wanting more of the character, more of the story. It's a story that sparks imagination in the reader. We'll only know Ellendor Robbins' future in our own imagination. Prayers the Devil Answers does what every good story should do.

Sharyn McCrumb's website is

Prayers the Devil Answers by Sharon McCrumb. Atria Books. 2016. ISBN 9781476772813 (hardcover), 341p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


Patricia Stoltey said...

This post made me realize how long it has been since I read something by Sharyn McCrumb. I'm adding this one to my TBR list. Thanks Lesa.

Lesa said...

It seems as if it's been forever since I read anything by her, too, Patricia. I was waiting for something that took me back to the atmosphere of the Ballad books.

Kaye Barley said...

Can't wait to read this - I love her Ballad novels!! Thanks, Lesa