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Brighten the Corner Where You Are (1989)

by Fred Chappell

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219795,250 (4.01)8
This story of a day in the life of Joe Robert Kirkman, a North Carolina mountain schoolteacher, sly prankster, country philosopher, and family man, won the hearts of readers and reviewers across the country.

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This book takes place mainly over the course of one day in the life of Joe Robert Kirkman. He is a farmer who is a teacher at the local high school. At the beginning, he wrestles with the wicked devil possum while out in the woods at night with his buddies of the Crazy Creek Wildlife Appreciation Committee, where the membership dues are five hundred dollars a year but are refundable when you see your first fox. Membership is also contingent upon having a hunting dog, which Joe Robert doesn't have since his dog died at some point, but they let him remain on as an honorary member.

He has a big meeting that day with the school board after school so he dresses in his best suit, which gets immediately wet when he rescues a girl in the creek. He is forced to put on a ridiculous outfit because it is all that the town store owner has for him to wear. He is also forced to wear new brogans which are tight on his feet. His day doesn't get much better as he faces more trials and tribulations before the big showdown at the end of the day.

Joe Robert is a liar, as he freely admits unless it comes to talking about certain inalienable facts of life or science. He is also a jokester and prank-puller and philosopher. He's in trouble with the school board for introducing evolution to his students. One of the parents complained and the school board had to respond. He doesn't know how the school board will respond, but as the day wears on he imagines the worse.

This book is a pure delight to read. It's a real yarm of a tale. This book is also the second book in the Kirkman quartet. However, I did not know this until after I had read this book and I feel as though the book stands on its own. I am curious about the other books after reading this one since I enjoyed it so much. I"m interested in finding out what happens to Joe Robert. I highly recommend this crazy book.

My grandmother believed that knowledge and wisdom were two separate things entirely and not even closely connected; she thought it possible that knowledge could sometimes be the bitter enemy of wisdom. But for my father, knowledge was the necessary precondition for wisdom; he thought that he needed to acquire a great deal of knowledge to ponder on until he formed it into wisdom, the way a sculptor shapes a statue from his stone.
-Fred Chappell ( Brighten the Corner Where You Are p 7)

“Aw now, Mackail,”my father said, “you’re not an old man yet.” “Well then, I’m disappointed,” he said, “because I’ve sure worked at it long enough.”
-Fred Chappell (Brighten the Corner Where You Are p 21)

He had discovered a universal law, one that he felt ought to be enshrined in the physics textbooks along with those of Galileo, Pascal, and Newton: A man falling in space toward the nearest center of gravity will be attacked by a whole bunch of foolish notions.
-Fred Chappell (Brighten the Corner Where You Are p 26)

Take away the stuff of tears, there is nothing left to make laughter of.
-Fred Chappell (Brighten the Corner Where You Are p 35)

“Is that what I told the class, Janie, that mankind was descended straight from monkeykind?” “No sir. You said that man seemed to be trying to evolve into an animal as nice as a monkey, with an embarrassing lack of success.”
-Fred Chappell (Brighten the Corner Where You Are p 70)

“Age,” he said, “before beauty.” “Myth,” my father replied, “before history. Thought before action.”
-Fred Chappell (Brighten the Corner Where You Are p 85)

Disappointed with his later colorless years, he would, my father surmised, wind up a dope fiend or a literary critic.
-Fred Chappell (Brighten the Corner Where You Are p 139)

The fact is that Dr. Darwin was mistaken. We did not begin as blobs of simple slime and work up to higher states. We began as innocent germs and added to our original nature cunning, deceit, self-loathing, treachery, betrayal, murder, and blasphemy. We began lowly and have fallen from even that humble estate. Dr. Darwin has searched for the truth. It is the nature of the human animal to subject its earnest seekers and most passionate thinkers to humiliation, degradation, imprisonment, and execution.
-Fred Chappell (Brighten the Corner Where You Are p 211-12) ( )
  nicolewbrown | Jul 31, 2017 |
Good story of a southern mountain teacher, full of beautiful prose and great characters. ( )
  Fernhill | Aug 20, 2013 |
I picked this up at a local library book sale, and I really got a bargain. This is a wonderful little book. It's written by someone who grew up in my area (always a bonus for me) and the setting is my area, so I can really relate to the characters. It's about a day in the life of a local school teacher, and does he have one heck of a day! Parts of the book had me laughing out loud! Don't let the title fool you--it sounds like something bright, cheery, and cheesy. I would say that the title refers more to the idea that we should each be ourselves, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. It may also refer to sort of shining a light on ignorance. Either way, I don't want to say too much, just read it if you like well-written, entertaining books that also have a message to them. ( )
  JG_IntrovertedReader | Apr 3, 2013 |
In Brighten the Corner Where You Are, Chappell returns to the pastoral setting of a small Appalachian farm town in Western North Carolina, and to his recurring character, Joe Robert Kirkman, a larger-than-life farmer, schoolteacher and prankster. (This novel is also narrated by Joe Robert's son, Jess.) But whereas Chappell's other novels were actually collections of loosely connected short stories, Brighten the Corner Where You Are has a more cohesive structure. It describes one pivotal day in Joe Robert's life.

The novel opens with a tall tale and ends with a dream. In between, Joe Robert has a series of misadventures. He faces down a treed wildcat on an early-morning hunting trip. He saves a little girl from drowning. He discusses philosophy with a ghostly janitor in the school basement and with an escaped goat on the roof. All of it culminates in a much-anticipated showdown with the school board over whether Joe Robert can teach evolution to the children of devout parents.

Brighten the Corner Where You Are is quite often funny on the surface, but underneath are musings on science, philosophy, lost youth, deferred dreams, doing what's right and being true to yourself. As with his other novels, Chappell sprinkles his story with just enough magic, folklore and absurdity to create an appealing, idealized world. This is my favorite of Chappell's novels, showcasing his gifts for language and imagery that reveal him to really be a poet disguised as a novelist. ( )
1 vote sturlington | Apr 29, 2011 |
folksy collection of tales from WNC ( )
  mnlohman | Sep 27, 2010 |
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For my mother
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We walked along the crackling road.
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This story of a day in the life of Joe Robert Kirkman, a North Carolina mountain schoolteacher, sly prankster, country philosopher, and family man, won the hearts of readers and reviewers across the country.

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