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Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks, by Donald Harington

It was Friday night, a week ago. I was in Seoul, alone in my hotel room, facing a long shabbat with nothing to do but read. I started reading this book at 10pm. By the time I went to sleep, at 5am, I was half-way through it. The only reason I stopped was that I wanted to give myself a few more days of pleasure, instead of finishing it all in one go.

This is an epic novel that traces several generations of the Ingledews, the first settlers of the town of Stay More in Arkansas. The town was named so by the Indian the brothers met upon arriving in Arkansas (or rather, John met, as Noah was scared shitless of the native and ran to the woods). This Indian, Fanshaw, who spoke English with a British accent, referred to the Ingledew dwelling by this name because John kept telling him politely to "stay more" every time he came to visit. So it is only natural that the town dwellers became knows as the Stay Morons.

This wonderful book has twenty chapters. Each chapter opens with an illustration of a building, and through the story of that building and its distinctive architecture, Harington weaves the tale of Stay More and the Stay Morons. The tale makes its way through the Civil War, the Great Depression and two World Wars, gradually building a world which entrances the reader and makes him fall in love with its inhabitants. These hillibillys, with their simple ways and their reluctance to adapt to PROG RESS, go through good and bad but stay fiercely proud of their home town. The men work hard, which makes them come down with bad cases of the Frakes, a mysterious incapacitating disease that makes life seem utterly pointless, but they also enjoy the simple pleasures in life: hunting, fornicating, or simply sitting around on the porch of the town's general store or mill. The wives are busy producing children and taking care of their homes, although most of them turn out to be much smarter than the men.

The best way I can find to describe this novel is to call it the "American 100 years of Solitude". It will make you laugh aloud, it will make you smile, it will make you ponder life and it will definitely change the way you think about early American settlers and their modern-day offspring. I don't recall how I came by this book and why I bought it, but I'm so thankful I did.

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