August 20, 2012

Book Review: The Coffin Quilt

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The Coffin Quilt by Ann Rinaldi is about the Hatfields and the McCoys.  After watching the Hatfield and McCoy miniseries in June, I started researching the story.

It is heartbreakingly ironic.

If you don't know your history, there was some bad blood between the Hatfields (of West Virginia) and the McCoys (of Kentucky).  Both lived near their common state border.

These disagreements had been left over from happenings in the field during the Civil War.

Then, in 1878, there were some hogs.  Some hogs that needed to be brought in for butchering.  And, back in the day, you needed to mark your livestocks' ear so you knew whose was whose.  Well, there was a dispute over the ownership of a hog.  This fueled the fire.

Each family had like 26 kids.  They had enough that they started running out of decent names and just had to come up with whatever.  Robert E. Lee Hatfield?  Pharmer McCoy?  Johnse Hatfield?  Trinvilla McCoy?  "Bud", "Fanny", and "Adelaide" were the good ones.
Anyway..

The pretty Roseanna McCoy ran off to marry Johnse Hatfield and then....it got real.

I don't want to tell the whole story, but it does end up with just about everybody dying.  (Chick lit, it is not.)



The Coffin Quilt is historical fiction by Ann Rinaldi.  She explains how and why she wrote the way she did at the end of the book.  Brilliant, and it's exactly how I would write about a subject like this too.

The story is told by Fanny, the youngest McCoy child.  The feud, of course, began long before she was born.  The Coffin Quilt begins in 1880 when Fanny is seven and ends* in 1889 when she's 16.

This book was a quick read.  Once I got into it, I couldn't put it down.  The language is different (19th century Kentuckian), but it's easy to understand, and kind of amusing.

If you study history at all, you know that a lot of people tend to cling to religion at times when they would be better served by logic.
For example, Mrs. McCoy is more concerned about reciting quotes from the Bible's prophets and moving pebbles around a tree stump (damned to the left, saved to the right, or something like that) than she is about the reality of the situation.  The McCoys seemed to believe that this feud was God's doing and couldn't be altered by man.  That worked to their disadvantage, in my opinion.

If they had woken up and realized, "Hey, maybe we could allow Ro to marry him.  We've got 17 other daughters anyway" or "Hey, maybe we shouldn't 'pray on it'.  Maybe we should attack and get our sons back after they'd been kidnapped".  Or even, "Maybe we should stop letting Alifair try to drown Fanny under the water pump".

Fanny, as an 8 year old, saw the reality of the situation.   She couldn't do anything about it though, so that was frustrating.

Now, of course, the Hatfields aren't innocent in any way.  They rounded up 3 McCoy boys and executed them to avenge one man's death (a drunk uncle).

If you watch the miniseries, you'll think "Who's the bad guy? Who's the good guy? I'm confused!"  Because I had no idea who I wanted to win.  Trust me.  There were no winners here.

*Apparently there was a court order to end the feud, but honestly, everyone was dead, so it kinda fizzled out.
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Oh.  What's a coffin quilt?
The Hatfields had a coffin quilt that Roseanna worked on.  She added McCoy names to it.  The McCoys didn't believe in coffin quilts.  They were busy shuffling their "pebbles of the damned" around on a tree stump.
No wonder there weren't any winners here.

6 comments:

  1. I've been wanting to read this! Plus I need to get a book for my step dad...for father's day...ha. Little late. Would you recommend it, then?

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  2. This has been on my to-read list since you first mentioned it. I can't wait to dig into it.

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  3. i really loved the miniseries so maybe i'll check out that book too!

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  4. Hmm...sounds interesting. I think my sister would enjoy this. We taped the miniseries but still haven't watched it. Being a KY resident means this story hits "close to home" if you will. It's our own messed up Romeo and Juliet.

    -lauren

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  5. This sounds like a really good read, actually! I didn't watch the miniseries because I hate Kevin Costner just a little bit. I will add it to my list!

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  6. This books sounds really good. I love historical fiction! Thanks for sharing. :)

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