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Devil's Dream by Lee Smith

Devil's Dream

by Lee Smith

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It all starts when Moses Bailey marries young, beautiful Kate Malone. The Baileys are known to be a strict, religious family and the Malones are known to be a fun-loving, party family. This dichotomy continues throughout Moses and Kate's family tree. Some of their descendants are fiddle-playing musicians and some are devout church-going folks who frown on their more-popular relatives. The book mainly follows the lives of five different family members. Each one has something to contribute to the church vs fiddle feud, whether it's "I used to be a good-time man, but God showed me the error of my ways late one night" or "My mama was a real religious woman and I just couldn't wait to get out from under her roof and off to Nashville."

This was just okay. Now that I think about it, the book read more like a series of long short stories, if you know what I'm trying to say. I enjoy short stories, but Lee Smith tends to write very complicated, nuanced characters. Each main character's story ended before I really felt ready for it to end, so I was always left wanting more. If she ever used this book for a jumping-off place for five different novels, I would probably enjoy those. This book just left me a little frustrated.

But, as alway, Smith got the culture and the language of the Southern Appalachians exactly right. And to an extent, this church-or-music-heaven-or-hell-there's-no-meeting-of-the-two kind of culture is still out there. It's not so widespread, but it's still definitely around. So she knows what she's talking about. The book was, as always, very readable, and the fact that I wanted more about each character should tell you something about characterization. All the characters could get confusing at times, but my copy had a family tree at the front and the back. Expect to refer to that pretty frequently.

I would recommend this to those who are already fans of Lee Smith, but for someone who's never read one of her wonderful books, I would recommend one of her more traditional novels. ( )
  JG_IntrovertedReader | Apr 3, 2013 |
Smith uses a multi-generational approach to show us the uneasy relationship between popular traditional music and religion in the Appalachian area. Beginning in the 1830s with the marriage of a preacher and a woman from a fiddle-loving family, Smith gives us vignettes narrated by members of successive generations, that show how the times changed and the people changed with them. Most of the viewpoint characters are women, and most of the men are either repressive patriarchs or irresponsible bad boys. The presence of two good men in the penultimate section balances this a bit. Smith seems to be showing that while men had more freedom in the mountain culture, many (most?) fell into one of these extremes. Or maybe those are just the ones with whom this particular family of women was inclined to interact, or the ones who made for the best stories.

The voices of the women change a bit as the book progresses. Earlier narrators use simpler language, while the last couple use more abstract and educated-sounding words. The differences are not obvious; you couldn't have a dialog among these women without attributions and know who was speaking, except perhaps Katie. Perhaps, in this as well as the final chapter, Smith is telling us that while many things change, even more do not. ( )
  Jim53 | Sep 3, 2012 |
I wanted to like Lee Smith's tribute to country music more than I did, but it was too disjointed and confusing. Too many narrators that all sounded alike. My tired old brain kept mixing up the characters so I had to keep peeking at the family tree provided in the endpapers of the book. At least there was a family tree. I really didn't feel much for any of the characters. Recently re-released in an attractive trade paperback. ( )
  ken1952 | Mar 11, 2011 |
Another good Lee novel. Lee tells the tales of the Bailey offspring from Virginia starting in 1833 and ending in the 1960s. This is country music Americana at its finest. ( )
  revslick | May 14, 2010 |
In this loving tribute to country music and its artists, Smith traces the history of this uniquely American tradition through several generations of the Bailey family of Grassy Springs, Virginia. Moses Bailey’s preacher father thinks fiddle music is the voice of the Devil laughing; Moses’ wife, Kate Malone comes from a fiddle playing family. Starting in 1833 the Baileys are torn between their love of God and their love of music. Plain Baptist hymns and haunting Appalachian ballads shape the lives of the early generations. Grandsons R.C. and Durwood marry Lucie and Tampa, who, as the Grassy Branch Girls, take part in the early "hillbilly recordings" of the 1920s. Warm, amusing, moving, this novel represents Smith at her best. Highly recommended. This is another of Lee Smith's novels that progresses chronologically through generations, each successive generation represented through a group of narrators. Her ability to portray a character through that character's voice is amazing. ( )
1 vote siubhank | Oct 27, 2007 |
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This book is dedicated to all the real country artists, living and dead, whose music I have loved for so long.
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It's Christmastime at the Opryland Hotel, and you never saw anything like it!
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345382919, Paperback)

"She writes lyric, luminous prose; her craft is so strong it becomes transparent, and, like the best of storytellers, she knows how to get out of the way so that the story can tell itself."
Moses Bailey, a preacher's son, forbade his fiddle-loving wife Kate Malone to play. But while he was gone on his travels, looking for God, Kate couldn't help herself, and began fiddling for her three children. For the love of music, Kate is willing to defy anyone who tries to stop her. From generation to generation, the gift and love of music cannot be stopped, and no Malone is immune from its spell.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:07 -0400)

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Moses Bailey forbade his wife to play the fiddle, judging it to be the voice of the Devil.

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