Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Club: Blood Feud

Sorry I've left you guys hanging lately! I've been on vacation! But now I'm back with a bunch of content for you all, so hopefully I can keep it flowing a little more steadily. Here's a picture to show that the wait was worth it:

 (my son, Gabe--sixteen months)

Gabe had such a good time at that birthday party! He's all about balloons now. But, on to more serious pursuits--reading non-fiction!

The full title of the book for this post is Blood Feud: The Hatfields & the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder & Vengeance by Lisa Alther. It's quite a mouthful. And so is the book itself, actually. An eyeful, I guess I should say. The title and description of Alther's book portray a relation of the events surrounding the Hatfield v. McCoy feud in Tug Fork Valley, which only takes up about 60% of the book in reality. I had never heard the entire story of the feud laid out piece-by-piece, so I really enjoyed reading about the topic more thoroughly. Alther does a good job putting the events into a timeline that we can understand and referring back to that timeline when she introduces a lesser known character in the book. She also seems to relate all of the facts to the best of her ability, even though some of the information is muddled through years of reality mixing with legend in the Hatfield and McCoy families. I will say that every once in a while she projects an emotion onto one of the feud members, and I'm not convinced that they felt the same way she seems to about everything. She does make it clear that these are her guesses or assumptions, though, so at least she's not just telling a falsehood. I found the brutality of events and stubbornness of feud members difficult to understand--it just was not necessary in any sense of the word. Given an understanding of the two families' way of life, however, I can understand how this feud came to take place. Below are pictures of the two feud leaders, Ranel McCoy and Devil Anse Hatfield, which I found on Photobucket.

Randolph (Ranel) McCoy

William (Devil Anse) Hatfield
 After her discussion of the Hatfield v. McCoy Feud, Alther talks about several other feuds that did not garner as much attention from the public (for various reasons). I never realized there were so many, so this was an especially interesting section to me. I am not a big fan of the last chapter of the book, however, where Alther talks about the McCoys' and Hatfields' genetic disposition to be feudists and her own fears (of the Cumberland Mountains and their inhabitants) "inherited" from her grandmother. She starts to cross into an area with which I don't quite agree, so the end of the book drags for me. Nevertheless, this is a good read, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Appalachian feuds of the 19th and 20th centuries.


  1. I almost picked up this book at the library last week! But we'd already checked out, so I didn't. I've really never known the history behind that feud, so maybe I'll give it a whirl some time.

    1. It was very informative. If you enjoy books of small-scale American history (not a war or revolution, I mean), I'd recommend it.