Deft and assured . . . Smith's seemingly effortless work is a considerable feat . . . She is nothing less than masterly as she starts us out with ghosts and bawdry, then finishes with wild song." --The New York Times Book Review
Oral History (1983) remains one of Lee Smith's most ambitious works. She uses multiple points of view to tell the story of the Cantrell family, a story that spans the better part of a century. The Cantrells are a mountain family who inhabit the hills and environs of Hoot Owl Holler. Jennifer, a citified descendant of the Cantrells, arrives to record an "oral history" of her family for a college course, and all the old stories unscroll. But Oral History is finally the story of Dory, a lovely enigmatic woman who the many narrators attempt--through the telling of her story--to understand. In the end, however, Dory remains a mystery.
Smith says that's because "no matter who's telling the story, it is always the teller's tale, and you never finally know exactly the way it was. I guess I see some sort of central mystery at the center of the past, of any past, that you can't, no matter what a good attempt you make at understanding how it was, you never can quite get at it." On this basis, and in reference to Oral History, a reviewer for the Village Voice wrote that "you could make comparisons to Faulkner and Carson McCullers, to The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Wuthering Heights."
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