Book Review by Roy E. Perry: Lee Smith’s “Family Linen”

Editor’s Note:  Roy E. Perry wrote book reviews for The Tennessean and Nashville Banner for more than 30 years. Recently profiled in The Tennesean/Brentwood Journal, Mr. Perry is a devotee of the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, and characterizes himself as “the amateur philosopher” of Nolensville, Tennessee. We are proud to feature periodic book reviews by Mr. Perry in Underground Nashville. Here is his latest:


Near the end of Lee Smith’s sixth novel, one of the main characters says, “There’s no point hanging dirty linen on the line.” And this novel is full of dirty linen—dilly-dallying, promiscuity, adultery, and fornication. Family Linen might have been titled Dirty Family Linen or A Family’s Dirty Linen, for the family’s torrid passions are hung on the line for all to see. The novel is also a whodunit: Who killed Jewell Rife?

The final chapter of the book is anticlimactic, reminding one of the “evil” Darth Vader in Star Wars posing for a heart-warming family photo. Perhaps the best explanation of such a (seemingly) happy ending is that Lee Smith, writing with tongue firmly planted in cheek, ironically tells us that the denizens of Booker Creek, although attending a family reunion and a beautiful wedding, haven’t really changed—and, indeed, won’t change.

Another character says, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” And another character muses about “this old gaggle of disparate family members, teetering here on the brink of the past.” This distressingly dysfunctional family is, in the philosopher’s words, “human, all-too-human,” and only an incurable optimist would be assured that, as Shakespeare put it, “all’s well that ends well.”

Anything by Lee Smith is worth reading; she is one of the best writers of the Southern genre. Her characters are well-drawn and, while not always commendable, consistently fascinating and entertaining. I would have given Family Linen five stars, except for the disappointing concluding chapter. However, as Nietzsche once said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” If the last chapter is viewed as irony, rather than anticlimactic “fizzle,” one might interpret the ending as sheer genius!

For other book reviews by Roy E. Perry, please visit:

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter,” both now available at Dave also is a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising / marketing / public relations writer.

Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville by Dave Carew—which was praised by The Tennessean as “beautiful, haunting, powerful”—is now available in an all-new paperback edition. For more information, please visit and “like” the page on Facebook:

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Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew




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