Addie: A Memoir

"An autobiography that begins with one's birth begins too late, in the middle of the story, sometimes at the end." So begins Mary Lee Settle's memoir. Her story carries within it inherited choices, old habits, old quarrels, old disguises, and the river that formed the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia and mores of her childhood. She traces the effect on her family and herself of ancient earthquakes, mountain formations, and the crushing of swamp into coal deposits. In doing so, Settle records the expectations, talents, and tragedies of a people and a place that would serve as her deep and abiding subject in The Beulah Quintet.

Like her grandmother Addie, who beck-oned an audience with her words, "let me tell you something," Settle relays the story of her life with richness and compassion. She tells of her own birth on the day of the worst causalities of World War I, when her mother was obsessed with fear for a beloved brother stationed in France; of growing up in a time of boom and bust; of the Great Depression; of clinging to a frail raft of gentility that formed her early adolescence. She traces dreams from the attic of a music school where she found a friend who took her to Shakespeare and a teacher who forced her to recognize true pitch. 

Addie ends back at its source, in the Kanawha Valley, with those, now dead, who helped to form the author's life. The memoir closes with the burial of the last of inheritors of Beulah, Settle's cousin, to whom Addie is dedicated.

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