Sunday, September 13, 2009

Five best: Southern fiction

Elizabeth Spencer’s fiction includes the novels The Night Travellers and The Salt Line and the short-story collection The Southern Woman.

For the Wall Street Journal she named her favorite works of Southern fiction.

One book on the list:
On Agate Hill
by Lee Smith
Shannon Ravenel, 2006

Writing through the years, Lee Smith has shown us ­spirited, attractive young women taking their chances in life's strong currents. "On Agate Hill" takes place just after the Civil War, when an orphan named Molly Petree is sent to live with a North Carolina family that is blighted by death and poverty. The ­little girl finds a secret room in their great house on Agate Hill and from there spies down on the yard and listens through the chimney. Then a mysterious benefactor appears, enabling Molly to go out for schooling—followed by work, love, marriage and tragedy in a devastated land struggling to revive. The sturdy characters endure and eventually flourish. Lee Smith sticks close to the actual in her work; she can bring a story to life because it is life, however improbable, unpredictable, ­hilarious or grim. The girl in the secret room, seeing all and hearing all, could serve for the author herself.
Read about all five books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue