Veteran short-story writer Ayer strikes gold with these enchanting sketches of the motley relatives and neighbors who peopled her mother’s rural West Virginia girlhood—back when the 20th century was young and spry.

In 1903, Nellie Wister was 8, the eldest daughter of a successful farmer and a proud homemaker with deep roots in Chinkapin Creek, a frontier world of fob hats, molasses and moonshine, tucked into a remote corner of the Mountain State. The automobile had not yet arrived, and men were still called home from the fields by dinner bells ringing across blue hills and green valleys. Channeling her mother’s voice, Ayer employs well-crafted narrative nuggets and crisp dialogue—plus a few choice nostalgic photographs—to recreate the impressions made on Nellie’s alert young mind by assorted visitors to the Wister homestead, where mares are covered, tobacco is spit and pear butter is turned. We meet the perpetually dressed-in-mourning Jane Hamrick, who “had fifteen children by fifteen different men.” We learn that Cousin Jonathan “ain’t worth the powder it would take to blow him up.” Then there’s Cecil McComas, who enjoyed the distinction of having two horses shot from under him during the Battle of Sharpsburg and “always spoke as if he were shouting over cannon fire.” And one Miss Nettie Hunter who, when introduced, “couldn’t be counted on to answer because she took laudanum.” If Jane Austen had dabbled in whittled wood instead of pieces of ivory, she may have produced this winsome little book. Yet Ayer’s wry sketches plumb profound themes. As her tales accumulate, the travails of the poor, the lost and the luckless of Chinkapin Creek quietly emerge, along with Nellie’s growing sophistication and wonderment over the vicissitudes of courtship, marriage, faith and death. Ayer skillfully imbues the raw perceptions of youth with the wisdom of age. Her Chinkapin Creek is at once funny, fulsome and strange—a place where small, obscure lives achieve a poetry all their own. An accomplished, creative memoir by a writer with serious literary tools—West Virginia, we hardly knew your soulful depths.


Pub Date: June 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-0615452715

Page Count: 131

Publisher: Chinkapin Publishers

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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