Sins of the 7th Sister
Southerners truly revere our eccentrics. But of all the hideous, funny, family secrets I’ve heard and told, none can top Huston Curtiss’s. Using the aid of his childhood diaries, beginning with events in May of 1929, he exposes his family skeletons in a series of guffaw-inducing anecdotes. More than one will raise both eyebrows. (After consideration, Curtiss decided to call this a novel instead of a memoir.)
Billy-Pearl Fancler Curtiss, Hughie’s mother, is the heroic, central figure of the story. Though far from perfect, she is beyond compare. Beautiful, forthright, and not above lying for a good cause, she is a dead-eyed shot, a skilled horsewoman, and collector of lost souls. Paradoxically, she is uncomfortable with overt displays of affection, so offers her son other gifts instead, whether he wants them or not. Memorable auxiliary characters include Hughie’s grandfather Fancler, his great-aunt, and Stanley, his adopted brother, who later becomes an internationally acclaimed, female, opera sensation. Suffice it to say that little Hughie did not have a sheltered, kid-gloved childhood. He was, however, in the middle of everything, watching, taking notes, stashing his money in his boots, and dreaming of the day he could get out of Elkins, West Virginia.
This is a real page turner, to a point. The ending, in contrast to the rest of the novel, is abrupt, with a recap of the years after 1932 taking up only the last 18 pages. Subject matter involving murder, racism, and sexuality make this a book that might not appeal to everyone. But for those who have played the “my family is so crazy” game, this will surely trump anything else you’ve ever heard.