Sharyn McCrumb was the banquet speaker at Longwood University’s Summer Literacy Institute, and I enjoyed hearing her speak. In preparation for hearing her, I wanted to read one of her back-list titles, so I chose The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, a title from 1992.
McCrumb is known as a writer of Appalachian fiction, both historical and contemporary. This novel follows several characters in Dark Hollow, Tennessee. At first I thought the characters and their stories might be related only tangentially, but as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that they are part of a poignant and interwoven quilt that adds depth to each character and adds life to the town of Dark Hollow.
My favorite character is Nora Bonesteel. She is gifted with “the Sight” and is able to see glimpses of the future, though she is unable to do anything about it. For instance, she might create a quilt that illustrates a series of gravestones, and although she may know who is going to die, she is powerless to prevent it. She plays an important role in foreshadowing throughout the story, especially as we come to know her and the other characters better.
Laura Bruce is a mid-thirties preacher’s wife left to tend to the “flock” by herself while her husband serves overseas in his role as preacher. She is pregnant and feels out of place and is looking to find a sense of belonging—both in the community and in her religion. It is appropriate that her husband is absent the entire time, for it allows her to focus on her personal growth without relying on him as a crutch, or someone who will define her for her.
There are other characters as well—there’s Tavy Annis and Taw McBryde. At first I thought their story was randomly thrown in there, but keep faith: it, too, weaves into the larger tapestry. Tavy is dying of cancer, and he believes it’s the result of chemicals being dumped into the river by a North Carolina water company. He begins his dying crusade to right this wrong.
There’s also the Underhill family—four of them have been killed in a murder-suicide, and the remaining two (teenagers) are left to fend for themselves. Their case is a strange one, and no one seems to give them the full attention they deserve until things escalate out of hand.
There are several other characters as well, and they all add depth and flavor to the town. Their stories help to develop the novel. The final page ended in a satisfying way—bittersweet, expected, and unexpected at the same time.
During the author’s talk, I enjoyed hearing about history from a local perspective–and the ways certain people or events tend to be left out of history textbooks. Since the Revolutionary War is one of my favorite time periods to think about, I purchased one of McCrumb’s newer books, King’s Mountain, at the signing event, and I look forward to reading it soon.