Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell

This is a book about a time that has passed. I want to say a simpler time, but perhaps it was a time when rural America and urban America were further apart. It certainly was an era when time moved at a slower pace.

This story takes place on an isolated mountain farm in Western North Carolina just before and during World War II. Jess lives with his parents, his grandmother and Johnson Gibbs, an orphaned teenager, who is living with his family.

The story on one level is a coming of age story, but it is far more than that—it is also a story of a particular time. It is the story of Jess's relationship with his father and with Johnson.

Jess's father is fun loving and up for some wild pranks while his mother is conservative and rather prim.

The humor is delicious. A number of Jess's uncles visit the family, usually as uninvited guests. There's Uncle Luden who loves and chases after women. Uncle Gurton who manages to disappear and appear without anyone seeing him enter or exit. His flowing beard has never been trimmed; he tucks what must be an incredibly long beard inside his overalls. The length of the beard challenges Jess's youthful curiosity. In one laugh out loud scene, Jess succumbs to that curiosity and sneaks into his Uncle's room. His uncle is asleep and Jess releases the beard from the overalls.

Uncle Zeno tells stories—an endless supply of tales. My favorite uncle is Runkin. He travels everywhere with his coffin and sleeps in it rather than using a bed.

While the humor, dialogue, and specificity of details create a strong book, it is the intrusion of the world beyond that isolated mountain farm that reminds us of the fragility of life.

The historical context of the war intrudes and leaves its imprint on this family just the way the quirky uncles, the escapades, and the love of family leaves its imprint on the reader.

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