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She almost laughed. Suddenly the room got very quiet. I could very nearly smell the moonshine the moonshiners too!

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Pass a few hours with Mary Bet Hartsoe and family. And I did, and so will you as she takes us through some of the most turbulent times in our history while negotiating, with integrity and grace, the brittle demands of family and community. It will remind you why you started reading novels in the first place—to be enchanted, to be carried away from your world and dropped into a world more substantial and incandescent.

John Milliken Thompson knows that every story is many stories, and he handles this complex tale of romance, family, race relations, and secrets with intelligence, grace, and tenderness. He has breathed life into Mary Bet Hartsoe and her benighted family, and they will breathe life into you.

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I rooted for Mary Bet, and worried over each step she took within a family that seemed mysteriously fated for disaster. She is confident but conflicted, and her realistic journey will keep readers engaged.

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Love and Lament captures the complexity of coming of age in the face of death and rapid industrialization, and the sense that although things will never be the same, life may yet endure. In other words, Thompson makes that art form called the novel do the work it is meant to do—thoroughly and beautifully.

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It is a book of poetry written in prose. It is slow paced, literarily matched to the pacing of its setting.

John Milliken Thompson - LOVE AND LAMENT

Love and Lament is set in the decades following the Civil War. What impact does this have on the characters?


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How does Thompson evoke this historical period, and in what ways are the characters a product of their time? The Devil continuously reappears throughout the novel, in dreams and superstitions. Eventually she takes a job as a courthouse clerk and sometime deputy working for her cousin; after he leaves to fight in World War I, Mary Bet becomes North Carolina s first female sheriff. Thompson perfectly captures the Carolina Piedmont s sights, sounds, and flavors and convincingly depicts the turn-of-the-century South haunted by the Civil War, and embracing old-time religion and new-fangled machinery and ideas.

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Underlying and uplifting his narrative is Mary Bet s vivid point of view: hiding while her grandmother breaks up her grandfather s drunken poker game, helping the sheriff chase down moonshiners, watching Cicero and Able, the son of slaves, try to grow bananas in North Carolina s climate. At times the novel can seem too ambitious; for example, Thompson continues to introduce some new, fairly substantive characters right up towards the end of the novel, and few added much to the story.

Some minor plot twists late in the book seemed incongruous with the rest of the narrative arc, and for a few pages, Thompson jarringly and inexplicably identifies Mary Bet by her job title rather than by her name. Even when Thompson appears to be overreaching, however, Love and Lament is still strong. And in some ways, the overreaching feels appropriate.


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Through new characters and new settings, there is the sense that life keeps moving forward for Mary Bet—a woman who grew up convinced her life would end soon, as it did for many of those she loved. Thompson evokes the rich life that Mary Bet ultimately develops right before the novel concludes, in a scene in which Mary Bet is surrounded by many friends and individuals who love and respect her. The absence of so many of her family members is keenly felt, but the presence of these people is equally powerful.