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Dimestore: A Writer's Life by Lee Smith

Dimestore: A Writer's Life

by Lee Smith

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A wonderful autobiography about growing up in Appalachia and how it became the rich substance from which she could write. Everything is so descriptive it takes you right there along side her. The chapter about her son was heartbreaking and I openly wept with her. Beautiful book. ( )
  Brenda63 | Jul 9, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This memoir is actually a collection of essays about Smith’s life, both her childhood in Grundy, Virginia, and her adult life in North Carolina. It is her own personal story, not an analysis of the state of the South or anything like that. But her writing shows many of the reasons people treasure their rural heritages—and the reasons some may decide to leave them behind.

Grundy, where Smith grew up, is a small Appalachian town that was built on coal. It’s one of the towns that has suffered economically from the loss of that industry, so much so that town leaders asked Walmart to come in to renew the town as part of a major rebuilding project to alleviate flooding. Smith writes of the town’s evolution, expressing both sadness for what is lost and guilty pleasure in enjoying the latte she could get in the growing town’s new coffee shop. She doesn’t present any analysis of the problem or its political implications, but her mixed feelings about the changes are evident.

Although for the most part, Smith’s memories of childhood in Grundy are warm with nostalgia, she doesn’t ignore the dark side of her world. Both of her parents dealt with mental illness. Her father said he was sometimes “kindly nervous,” his way of describing bipolar. William Styron’s Darkness Visible gave him great comfort. Lee Smith’s mother, too, had depression and anxiety. Both parents were hospitalized from time to time.

Smith also writes about the poverty and illiteracy in the region, again connecting it with stories from her own life and those of the people around her. “Lightning Storm” is a wonderful look at people just learning to write. But then there’s “On Lou’s Porch,” about a woman who wrote wonderful stories and poems for no one but her self. The South is not just one thing, even within one small region.

One of my favorite essays demonstrates the many faces of the South beautifully. Set in Carrboro, North Carolina, it uses the framework Smith’s taking an elderly lady friend to lunch at a sushi restaurant. Using this framework, she tells the story of the restaurant’s history and the people who’ve worked there.

Smith’s stories also delve into her writing career, a youthful trip down the Mississippi on a raft, and the death of her son. She is a master storyteller, and I’m glad to have had this opportunity to revisit her writing. ( )
1 vote teresakayep | Jul 4, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A true step back in time. I enjoy memoirs that truly give you a peek into what life was like in a place and time different from my own experience, but yet the same. I was able to get a good idea of what the author's life was like and could feel her authenticity throughout. I recommend this book. ( )
  sdbookhound | Jun 27, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I hadn't heard of Lee Smith before, but the description of this book sounded interesting. So, since it was the biography of an author I didn't know, the story was more about a time and place than an individual - at least for the most part. I thought when Smith kept it to the time and place around the book's title, it was fantastic. Smith's a great writer (I'll probably track down a book from her at some point). But when she delved into later life and some family tragedies, it seemed out of place with the rest of the book. It seemed the stories of her son Josh either shouldn't have been included or should have been longer. Instead, they detracted from the main thread. That kept it from being a four star for me. It's understandable that it's an important story, but it felt like it was something that was a "volume II" and was really the only misstep I saw.

As for her writing talent - her descriptions really did an amazing job at painting a picture and transporting you to the world she was relating. Although it wasn't a deep look at people (with the exception of her son), there was enough to get a sense of things. I enjoyed the step back in time and recommend this book even if like me, you aren't familiar with Smith's other work. ( )
  Sean191 | Jun 12, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Writers can spring from anywhere, even a seemingly nothing town like Grundy, Va. Although she grew up reading books and telling stories in Grundy, it took Lee Smith several years for this realization to hit her. Until then she had wondered what the daughter of a Ben Franklin store manager living deep in coal-mining country might possibly have to write about. Now in her 70s, the author of more than a dozen novels lives in North Carolina but keeps returning to those western Virginia mountains in her mind. That place and those people, she discovered, are virtually all she has to write about, and they are more than enough.

Smith tells her story in disjointed fashion in "Dimestore: A Writer's Life," mostly a collection of magazine and newspaper articles published over the past 20 years. She describes growing up in Grundy and how, at the time at least, it seemed like paradise. She tells of being her father's "doll consultant" every year at Christmas. As a child she wanted to become a saint, or at least an angel in the Christmas pageant. Neither happened. Both of her parents suffered from bouts of severe depression, and she admits her own fears of this condition. She tells of romances, marriages, children and the tragic loss of one of those children. Mostly, however, she writes about writing and, as she puts it, "the therapeutic power of language." After the death of her son, in fact, a psychiatrist wrote a prescription for her. It said only, "Write fiction every day." It was just the therapy she needed

In one of her better essays, one called "On Lou's Front Porch," she gives one of the better definitions of writing you will find. Writing, she says, "is not about fame, or even publication. It is not about exalted language, abstract themes, or the escapades of glamorous people. It is about our own real world and our own real lives and understanding what happens to us day by day, it is about playing with children and listening to old people." ( )
  hardlyhardy | May 22, 2017 |
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For my grandchildren, Lucy, Spencer, Ellery, and Baker
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I was born in a rugged ring of mountains in southwest Virginia - mountains so high, so straight up and down, that the sun didn't even hit our yard until about eleven o'clock.
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