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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

If Trouble Don’t Kill Me
Ralph Berrier, Jr.

Whenever a friend of mine writes a book or records an album, I can’t so much review it as just promote it.  The fact is, I’m just so terribly pleased to be friends with the kinds of people who write books and record albums.  At times, it almost ceases to be extraordinary.  Everybody makes records, right?  Of course, they don’t, and I’m just lucky enough to be perpetually surrounded by talented and creative people.

Ralph is one of those people.  I’m not actually sure if he’s made any records — he might fiddle on some of the early Black Twig Pickers catalog, but I wouldn’t swear to it.  But he has written one hell of an ambitious and compelling book.  If Trouble Don’t Kill Me is the story of Ralph’s great-uncles, the Hall twins, early bluegrass musicians and WWII combatants extraordinaire.  The book is the sort of thing that could easily have veered into the ditch.  It could have become dry family history, a hackneyed war story, or hokey nostalgia for the good old days that never were.  Writing a book like this, pitfalls abound.  But Ralph avoids most of them.  He doesn’t lionize his protagonists — at least, not too much.  He tells their stories more or less they way they probably would have told them themselves: with some exaggeration and braggadocio, to be sure, but also with strokes of self-effacement and humor to balance things out.  It’s the kind of story that everyone hopes someone will write about their own family.  Someone else, of course.  Ralph had the good sense to realize that nobody else was going to write it for him.  If there was to be a book about his great-uncles, he would have to write it himself.  So he did.

And the result is a pretty good read.  I finished If Trouble Don’t Kill Me in a couple of days.  Ralph has a good sense of storytelling.  The pacing is about right, the characters are multi-dimensional and engaging, and aside from a few overly-cute Faulkner-esque phrases, he mostly avoids the obvious clichés of rural Americana.  I can’t be impartial, of course, but even if I were, I think I would feel OK about recommending the book.

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