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Friday, November 03, 2006

Sharyn McCrumb & The Songcatcher

I've adored everything I've ever read by Sharyn McCrumb, which is admittedly only a small amount when compared to all the works she's created.

My first encounter with her was when I read two of her satire novels: Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool. To this day, the memory of the first book makes me laugh out loud while the second one fills me with a certain wistful melancholy.

I then read a book of hers with a hilariously memorable title: If I'd Killed Him When I'd Met Him, I'd Be Out of Jail By Now. It was a book that convinced me of McCrumb's ability to write about serious, heavy topics with a light, entertaining touch.

In a recent review posted at Book Help Web, Cyndi Allison talks about how McCrumb has a lyrical touch in the admittedly more prosaically titled novel, The Songcatcher:

In terms of the writing, the feel is simply lyrical. I could sink right into this book like a well-worn couch on the porch. I would be soaking up the story, and then...BAM. Suddenly, I was in another time and place. That would catch me off guard. Then I would drift into the new story. Just as things would get interesting...BAM. I jump from Boston where Malcolm has settled in as a gentleman lawyer to the mountains of North Carolina where he started his second family to Lark stranded in a downed plane in the mountains. All of the story lines were fascinating, but the book has that constant feel of not quite catching a buzz. Just when you get comfortable, the cops bang on the door — figuratively and literally.

To complicate all these jumps in time and place, the characters pass on the family names. Now, that is common in the mountains. In a book, it gets pretty confusing. Which Malcolm am I reading about this time? Which John is this? Even the girls hand down names, which is not as common. Malcolm fell in love with Elizabeth who died, so Malcolm married Rachel — the older and not-so-fun sister. They named a daughter Elizabeth. Both Elizabeth's died young, so I didn't have to keep up with them much anyway. But, that's one of the problems with the book. I need a chart to keep up with the names, and then the chart isn't much help when the names are the same.

In some ways, this book is a masterpiece. The author does tell wonderful stories with a ring of truth. I can catch most of the links and the way history does repeat as well as the family themes and names. My brothers are both named after family members, and three of my four maternal aunts are married to Bobs. Even when names don't come into play, I can see both physical and personality traits that crop up time and time again. I know where I got my big feet, and I know that I'm prone to be cranky if I don't get enough sleep.

On the other hand, a novel containing too many plot lines and too many identical names can be so confusing that the story gets lost just like the lost song central to the book. While some books sink in and stay with me, I'm not so sure about this one. I think I'll retain an echo of the story, but in a day or two, I'm pretty sure the details will all run together and be lost. Read more.


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