Picks and Pans Review: Oral History

updated 08/01/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/01/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Lee Smith

A young college girl, encouraged by her Oral History professor to take a tape recorder into the mountains of Virginia, is looking for evidence of witches and the occult. Instead she finds relatives in Hoot Owl Holler and is both frightened and fascinated by her crippled grandfather, who turns out to be a storehouse of bawdy folk songs. Other family members hint at terrible events in the past. This is the somewhat contrived opening for a mostly delightful and entertaining novel about several generations of a rural tribe. The members follow their urges—sex and violence—without regard to the consequences and without regret. Their stories, often overlapping, are told in different voices, as if this is indeed an oral history. Some sections of the book are more successful than others. The least effective are two parts told by a prissy male schoolteacher who falls in love with the family's prettiest woman. The most delightful section comes at the end—one of the tribe's women tells her much-loved husband her family's whole story to amuse him while he's laid up in bed after an accident. The author is an English teacher at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. (Putnam's, $14.95)

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