Review of Dimestore




A Writer’s Life

Lee Smith

Algonquin Books

Reprint edition: April 4, 2017

Blurb from Goodreads: For the inimitable Lee Smith, place is paramount. For forty-five years, her fiction has lived and breathed with the rhythms and people of the Appalachian South. But never before has she written her own story.

Set deep in the mountains of Virginia, the Grundy of Lee Smith’s youth was a place of coal miners, tent revivals, mountain music, drive-in theaters, and her daddy’s dimestore. It was in that dimestore–listening to customers and inventing adventures for the store’s dolls–that she became a storyteller. Even when she was sent off to college to earn some “culture,” she understood that perhaps the richest culture she might ever know was the one she was driving away from–and it’s a place that she never left behind.

Dimestore’s fifteen essays are crushingly honest, wise and perceptive, and superbly entertaining. Smith has created both a moving personal portrait and a testament to embracing one’s heritage. It’s also an inspiring story of the birth of a writer and a poignant look at a way of life that has all but vanished.

Dimestore is a collection of essays by fiction writer, Lee Smith, linked together to form a memoir. The essays discuss her early years, describe her family, and the way of life in Grundy, Virginia, a town on the banks of a river prone to flooding.

While the reminiscences of her early life, which encompass most of the essays at the beginning of Dimestore, are interesting, it isn’t until later essays which talk about her son, Josh, and his struggle with schizophrenia, and her identity as a writer that I felt her writing really shine. The prose sparkles.

The essay about Josh, “Good-bye to the Sunset Man” left me in tears, the way stories do when the person described is full of life and heart, especially as they attempt to overcome adversity.

The early essays are interesting for the most part because they describe another place in time, a slower time not mired in superficiality, that seems largely forgotten in this cell phone vacuum world.

If you are a writer, you may recognize yourself in “A Life in Books.” A person writes because they want to live beyond their own life. They write because to not do so would be unthinkable because a writer is more of himself when writing.

“I’ve been trying to pay attention ever since, realizing that writing is not about fame, or even publication. It is not about exalted language, abstract themes, or the escapades of glamorous people. It is about our own real world and our own real lives and understanding what happens to us day by day, it is about playing with children and listening to old people.”

For anyone who writes and finds that it’s their lifeblood, the above quote describes the life in a nutshell.

I highly recommend Dimestore for fans of Lee Smith as well as writers who will find their own thoughts in part described in these pages.

I received a copy of Dimestore from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

rating: 4-and-a-half

4 butterflies and a ladybug out of 5 butterflies


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