I love southern writers in general. I like reading books that take place in the south. I’m particularly drawn to the Appalachian area of southwestern Virginia and West Virginia. So I should love author Lee Smith.
It’s not fair of me to say I don’t, as I have only tried to read one of her novels. I say tried because I was unsuccessful. Fair and Tender Ladies – a novel told in the form of letters – simply didn’t grab my attention, and so I abandoned book.
But I was drawn to her memoir – told in a series of essays – one hundred percent because of its title. I grew up in a town that had not one, but two, dimestores, and I loved them both.
I didn’t love Smith’s memoir Dimestore quite as much as I loved dimestores themselves.
As I mentioned, what I am calling a memoir is actually a series of essays in which Smith tells us about her life as she grew up in the small Appalachian community of Grundy, Virginia, and beyond. Her father owned the local dimestore. For non-baby-boomers, dimestores were small versions of Walmart. You could find a little bit of a lot of things for a low price.
It’s true that I enjoyed the earlier essays more than the later essays because I loved hearing about her life growing up in southwestern Virginia in the late 40s and early 50s. I could relate, though my small town experience was in the Midwest. Let’s face it; small town America in the 50s was small town America in the 50s, no matter where you were. You could watch Dobie Gillis and the Mickey Mouse Club anywhere that had television reception. You could go out and play all day long without your parents arranging play dates.
I enjoyed the later essays a bit less because they were more about her experiences after college. Smith actually spent the last couple of years of high school at a boarding school in Richmond, VA, and then attended college in Roanoke. But you can tell that her upbringing in the Appalachians impacted her life forever.
I also loved that she began writing at as a small girl, taking the Nancy Drew stories and rewriting them to include herself as one of the characters or producing a different ending. I was enormously impressed to read this fact, as it is something I would have LOVED to do, but wouldn’t have had the nerve.
I can’t heartily recommend the book unless you are a true lover of memoirs. I borrowed the book from the library, so I didn’t mind that I skimmed some of the later essays. I might have felt a bit cheated if I had spent cold, hard cash on the book.
With that caveat, I give it a wobbly thumbs up.