Feather Crowns

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9780060925499: Feather Crowns

Set in the apocalyptic atmosphere of 1900--a time when many Americans were looking for signs foretelling the end of the world--Feather Crowns is the story of a young woman who unintentionally creates a national sensation. A farm wife living near the small town of Hopewell, Kentucky, Christianna Wheeler gives birth to the first recorded set of quintuplets in North America.

Christie is suddenly thrown into a swirling storm of public attention. Thousands of strangers descend on her home, all wanting too see and touch the "miracle babies." One visitor crawls right in through the window! The fate of the babies and the bizarre events that follow their births propel Christie and her husband far from home, on a journey that exposes them to the turbulent pageant of life at the beginning of the modern era.

Richly detailed and poignant, Feather Crowns focuses on one woman but opens out ultimately into the chronicle of a time and a people. Written in Bobbie Ann Mason's taut yet lyrical prose, the novel ranges from a peaceful farming community to a fire-and-brimstone revival camp, from seamy traveling shows to the hushed precincts of the nation's capital. Moving through the center of it all is Christie, a charming, headstrong, loving woman who struggles heroically to come to terms with the extraordinary events of her long life.

Feather Crowns is an American parable of profound resonance. Spellbindingly readable, it is a novel of classic stature destined to confirm Bobbie Ann Mason as one of America's most important writers.

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About the Author:

Bobbie Ann Mason has won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the American Book Award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Her books include In Country and Feather Crowns. She lives in her native Kentucky.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Christie and James Wheeler, tobacco farmers in turn-of-the- century Hopewell, Kentucky, and already parents of three, become the most illustrious people of their time and place when Christie gives birth to quintuplets. Her pregnancy was marked by a misdiagnosis of fibroids--and after the birth Christie wonders whether her so liking sex with her husband (as well as being once erotically charged by a preacher's millennial verve) could have contributed to so freakish an issue. But whatever their cause, the five babies demand heroic attention: Christie's milk is nowhere near adequate; a black nursemaid is called in. Also arriving are the curious--from as far away as St. Louis and Chicago. But in a matter of months the babies all die--``wooled to death,'' Christie thinks, from being overhandled by strangers; killed by Negro milk, James prefers to think. In any case, life after the babies grows hard economically as well as sentimentally; when a crop goes bad, Christie and James allow themselves to be suckered into going on a lecture tour (with the five tiny embalmed bodies in a glass case) that degenerates into a carny sideshow and worse. Shaking off their nightmare, the Wheelers finally allow a scientific institute to keep the babies' bodies for research; and the book ends with Christie in old age paying a visit to the Dionne quints. Mason (Love Life, etc.) has a wonderful story here and knows it, but has chosen to tell it so slowly, at such deliberate pace, that only the babies' deaths (and Christie's frantic impotence to stop the dying)--plus some of the freak-show hucksterism on the post-death tour--come over as vivid enough to be indelible. Mason's usually fine dialogue is muffled by historical distance, and the book simply is too long to maintain Christie's painful awe at life's oddness. The theme of exploitation rises foremost, but it's a late one the novel accedes to almost halfheartedly--sociology more cut and dried than the fearful psychology of Christie's grief. (First printing of 60,000) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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