The Quare Women, a Story of the Kentucky Mountains

by Lucy Furman. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press. 1923. 12mo. viii + 219 pp. $1.75.
IT is not always that an author’s manner of telling a tale is precisely adapted to the tale he has to tell, but such is the case with this story of the Kentucky mountains. As a medium for presenting this particular story, Miss Furman’s literary style is perfect — as stark and simple as the towering hills themselves. Polished phrases and rounded periods would be out of place here; the narrative moves along with a free-limbed step that is plainly its proper stride. And undoubtedly the method makes for an effect of strong reality.
As a matter of fact the story is reality. There is an attractive coloring of romance, but the rest is almost as authentic as a photograph. Our Southern mountains are the home of a fine, paradoxical people — uncouth, yet strangely gentle, childlike, and in a way humble, yet as proud and free as eagles. Though in everyday life they are almost crudely practical, yet at heart they are mystics and dreamers. The pure blood of old England runs in their veins; their speech lapses constantly into pre-Elizabethan language; they have held fast to a heritage of old ballads, customs, and courtesies that other parts of America lost long ago. If we dwellers in cities and plains find this hard to realize, we have only to venture far enough and high enough, and there is our proof.
Up the steep valley of Troublesome and straight into the midst of a lively feud go ‘the quare women,’ a band of winsome young missionaries aglow with altruism and not altogether innocent of curiosity. Their advent lights a dozen fires: the hostility of Uncle Lot, the Old Primitive; the secret, glowing ambition of Aunt Ailsie, his wife; new hope for the lorn widowman who yearned to marry a milker; shy envy in the heart of Lethie, an unconscious beauty in calico; and, most vivid of all, the passion that flamed up in young Fallon, feud-leader, turned him into a Lancelot and a Lochinvar, and almost, but not quite, made a fool of the handsome scamp.
Being a transcript from life itself, the story holds humor and pathos in equal quantities. The incident of the milking-contest, though pathetic in its way, is surely too funny to be fiction. And Aunt Ailsie hiding among the crags to sing her beloved, forbidden ‘Devil’s ditties,’with one of the queer women for audience and young Fallon keeping alert lookout for the Old Primitive — that chapter must inevitably stir both laughter and tears.
This is no book for mere casual attention. Whoever reads the first page will follow carefully on to the last. At the end we see no problem solved, no special point made, but we know ourselves stimulated and refreshed as by a cool wind blowing from high places. There is a sense of vision, too, and of discovery. But that is not strange, for have not men from the beginning of time found their revelations on mountain tops?