"LUCID IN EXECUTION, BREATHTAKING IN SCOPE AND HEART-RENDING IN EFFECT--A REDEMPTIVE WORK OF ART. . . . Lee Smith has done more than write another novel about the South. She has broken through the grotesque surface to the underground spring, the music of Scrabble Creek, and the effect is stunning--a beguiling, gentle prose formed by an honesty so severe we are brought to our knees. . . . This novel has a grand and singular purpose, to clothe the spirit with flesh. In this, Lee Smith succeeds."
--The Washington Post Book World
"A compelling journey into all matters southern and spiritual . . . . Set in North Carolina and Tennessee, we follow young Grace Shepherd from a cabin in the bucolic poverty of Scrabble Creek to independence as a single woman. Stops along the way include seduction by a half-brother, a failed marriage, motherhood, the loss of her son, residence in the aptly-named Creekside apartments in Knoxville and a job waitressing. . . . While Grace's path may be a journey many of us would not choose to undertake, we have to raise a small fist of jubilance to Grace for having survived."
--The Boston Sunday Globe
"Ms. Smith possesses a fine talent for creating narrative voices, whether the ungrammatical eloquence of a hill-country healer or the educated affectations of a Richmond gentleman."
--The New York Times Book Review
"Lee Smith patiently woos us into double vision. . . . As her fans know, [she] has one of the truest ears for the speech in her part of the world."
--Los Angeles Times Book Review
Florida Grace Shepherd is another of Smith's spirited Southern women of humble background (Fair and Tender Ladies, etc.) who are destined to endure difficult and often tragic times. Instantly appealing by virtue of her distinctive narrative voice, which is iconoclastic and free from self-pity, Grace is the daughter of Virgil Shepherd, a self-styled minister who spreads the gospel in revival meetings by means of serpent handling and personal charisma. Even as a child, ``Gracie'' hates her father's insistence on constant prayer, poverty and the need to see God's benevolent ``testing'' in every hardship to which he subjects his family. As she matures, she realizes that her father is a compulsive womanizer who excuses his frequent lapses by claiming that God forgives him whenever he ``backslides.'' Though his behavior eventually drives her mother to suicide, it takes longer for Grace herself to escape her father's psychic clutches. She is seduced by a half-brother at 14 and at 17 marries a melancholy 42-year-old preacher; she has two children and succumbs to an adulterous affair. Smith has great empathy for the poor, uneducated country people who yearn for a transcendent message to infuse their lives with spiritual meaning, and she demonstrates clearly how an aberrant individual like Virgil can attract fervent followers. She is less successful than usual in winning sympathy for her flawed heroine, however. Although she makes understandable the reasons for Grace's shallow personality and shows how a lifetime of sexual repression can trigger infidelity, Grace's abandonment of her children seems implausible, and her suffering never achieves a convincing poignancy. Literary Guild selection.