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To call Wayne Caldwell?s Cataloochee a work of fiction is misleading. Being a North Carolina resident and having hiked the area he writes about ? Cataloochee, which is now part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ? I?m not sure the stories within didn?t actually happen. The park system does an excellent job of preserving the history and structures that were there during the period in time the book mentions, and knowing some of the family histories of folks in this area; it could very well be the names have been changed to protect the innocent. What I liked about the book is just the fact that I could actually go and stand where he put his characters, not to mention visit a schoolhouse and farm buildings that were there at the time. It would be a great vacation destination for other fans of the book.
As for style, this is story telling at its best. Set in the mountains of western North Carolina, this tale of a family and community in the post-Civil war ?backwoods? of Appalachia draws you into family lives and struggles that those of us in today?s society can barely imagine. Caldwell manages this with an almost ?rocking chair by the fire? tone ? no fancy words, or wasted embellishments. The stories are as varied as the characters themselves, but all come together like a giant, warm piecework quilt. Struggles with alcohol, family business, the Government, family relationships, and just the struggle of daily life during this time is all laid out in such a way you can?t wait for the next chapter. I?ve no doubt that being a native of the area, with its rich story telling heritage, is what shaped Caldwell?s style.
Because each chapter tells a different portion of the story from a different family member?s perspective, I had to keep turning back to the family tree in the front of the book to remind myself of who was who. This proved rather to be a distraction until I was at least half-way into the book and the families and relationships took better shape in my mind. Being originally a northerner myself, I did have to set in my mind the language differences as well (had to look up what a ?pone? was). All in all, having read other books by other authors set in the same geographic region and style, this was by far my favorite.
This was one of the most enjoyable novels I?ve read in some time, and definitely recommend a comfortable spot to read it ? you?ll be there a while.
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