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Rerun: Bennett reviews Smith & McCorkle

Saturday Review: “Jill McCorkle and Lee Smith Mine The Past, and Both Find Gold”:
a review by Barbara Bennett
Jill McCorkle. Hieroglyphics: A Novel. 2020.
Lee Smith. Blue Marlin. 2020.

Over the summer, we’re sharing some reruns of older book reviews for authors whose latest work is recently published or will be out soon.

Lee Smith’s latest Southern romp, Silver Alert, is out now. Her last novel, Blue Marlin, was reviewed by Barbara Bennett in NCLR Online 2021. Bennett calls Blue Marlin a classic “tale of initiation” of teen Jenny, loosely based on Smith’s own childhood adventure to Key West.

Bennett writes, “Smith claims that “of all the stories I’ve ever written, this one is dearest to me, capturing the essence of my own childhood” (117), but I hope it’s not her last romp through her childhood. Let’s all hope she has many more memories that can be turned into enchanting and, as Jenny would say, dramatic! tales.”

After four decades of writing, Smith has delved into fiction, non-fiction, short story, and playwriting. Her body of work continues to define contemporary Southern writing (although we think her work can be enjoyed no matter where the reader is). As to why she continues to return to fiction, Bennett reminds us, “Because, [Smith] writes, “I can tell the truth better in fiction than nonfiction. Real life is often chaotic, mysterious, unfathomable,” but with fiction, “you can instill some sort of order to create meaning, so that the story will make sense – where real life so often does not” (118).”

Bennett also reviews Jill McCorkle’s latest novel Hieroglyphics. The two novels share the child-to-adult transformation. Bennett says, Hieroglyphics “is about being a child and trying to understand the grown-up world, but it’s also about being a grown-up and realizing it still does not all make sense, especially when looking back and trying to comprehend childhood.” Told through multiple perspectives by three different generations, Bennett describes this work as McCorkle’s most-Faulknerian novel to date.

Check out the 2016 issue for an in-depth interview by Bennett with Smith and McCorkle, along with other great features in the 25th anniversary issue of NCLR.

Read the rest of the review in the ‘21 Online issue and buy the book.