Family Linen

By: Lee Smith
Fiction
1985
Rating: 3/5

Family Linen

I’m surprised that I gave Family Linen a 3 out of 5.

I’ve read some Lee Smith before, a collection of short stories, and I was far from impressed. And I didn’t love this novel either. It’s just not my style at all.

It deals with a Southern family whose matriarch dies, and the ensuing mess that comes with a funeral. But beyond that, each member of the family is embroiled in a complicated history of relationships, and there are secrets everywhere.

That’s one of my problems with this book. There’s just so much going on. You get inside the heads of so many characters. You learn the backstories of even more. It’s a little bit overwhelming.

But that’s also one of the reasons why I rate this book as highly as I do. When you’re inside the head of a different character, you’re really inside their head. You hear their voice. You notice things they’d notice. You read the words that they’d use. For instance, one of the characters, Sean, is a fourteen-year-old boy. And Smith writes as a fourteen-year-old boy thinks. Another is an elderly woman from small-town Virginia, and Smith writes as an elderly woman from small-town Virginia would speak.

So I give her major props for that.

But all in all, the story’s just not for me. There’s a lot of mystery in this, which Smith writes really well. And the end is probably not what you’d expect.

I’ll give it away, just a little bit I promise, and say that the ending is surprisingly happy and optimistic. Which is definitely not something I’d expected after reading Smith’s short stories.

I just wish there was a little less going on. I wish Smith had narrowed her focus, found a few characters to get into, developed fewer storylines.

But all in all, it’s an interesting read. Especially if you’re interested in semi-realism, a non-perfect family, the small-town Southern life, dysfunction, mid-life affairs, and/or morbidity.

 

*****

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If you liked Family Linen, check these out:

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

Cakewalk by Lee Smith

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Coming up:

Eva Luna by Isabel Allende

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

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