One of the benefits about keeping quiet when new books are recommended is that I expose myself to new authors and genres. In January my book group met to have some fun and plan our spring books and my friend, Beth, who rarely recommends books spoke up about a book she read a long time ago that has stuck with her: “Fair and Tender Ladies” by Lee Smith.
We all know that feeling of a book that comes back to you: it sticks with you. Perhaps it’s a scene or a character or a phrase; but it’s the nirvana that we readers come to crave.
“Fair and Tender Ladies” is told from the point of view of protagonist Ivy Rowe as a series of letters to numerous recipients from her home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Epistolary novels are stories told soley in a series of documents most commonly as letters but could be in the form of ANY documents: even emails or text messages. (Shudder, imagine the grammar! GADS!)
The novel begins in Ivy’s childhood around WWI in the sweet and innocent tone of a young girl with a big heart but not much formal schooling. She writes sweet, and honest letters to teachers and other adults that would make her proud parents shudder as she candidly tells of her poor family’s plight and the troubles in their home.
We hear from Ivy through the different phases of her life all the way from childhood right through to old age. She has a few dramatic moments along the way, but mostly this novel is a character portrayal of a spunky backwoods mountain woman with a sassy mouth and a good heart. It is a cute if simple story told very sweetly with a voice you can come to love and in a tone that lets you see the world through Ivy’s eyes.
As I researched this novel and the author I read that Lee Smith came up with the idea when she found a box of letters at an estate sale and bought them for $5.00. She brought them home and couldn’t put them down.
I can relate to this, since I have journaled my whole life as well. My journaling has taken multiple forms: Highlighted passages from books, “old school” journaling in a notebook and our family has a treasure of weekly letters between us for the 11 months that our son was away at school in Utah. I have often thought that someday, when things slow down, I would like to write my story. And maybe it will take the form of epistolary. I like the word. If I do write it, I promise to leave out the emails and the text messages. OMG. LOL!