This isn’t a book review, per se, only a few personal thoughts I wanted to share. I first wrote them down a few years ago, the same day I finished the book.
Please pardon my venture into what is out-of-ordinary for this column.
“Blood Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys – The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance” (Lisa Alther, Lyons Press, 2012) is an enjoyable and worthwhile read, though I could have done without some of the editorializing. I acknowledge that this is the first book I have ever read on the famous feud.
The author keeps the story lively and personal. You almost feel as if you can relate to some of the flawed participants, or at least sympathize with how they might have felt at certain times or even acted as they did.
Also, anyone interested in the Hatfield and McCoy blood feud – that interest perhaps reawakened by last year’s History Channel miniseries co-produced by and starring Kevin Costner – will find a comprehensive gathering and arrangement of facts about the feud probably available in no other writing.
I can honestly say today, having read the book, that I can talk to anyone about the cause behind the feud, the major events during the feud, and some of the aftermath.
And in case anyone is wondering, the History Channel miniseries seems to be fairly accurate as far as order of events went, though it definitely took some artistic license.
That said, the author, who is related by marriage on her father’s side to the McCoys, is clearly biased – not so much toward the McCoys as against the Hatfields. I’m sure she would disagree with that assessment. However, she repeatedly employs words like “henchmen” and “thugs” to describe the Hatfields, and at one point even makes a comparison to Al Capone’s mob.
The opinionated commentary throughout the book also detracts, in my opinion, from the story. Just tell me the known, or alleged, facts and I’ll take it from there (the author acknowledges that not all of the true facts can be determined, but then proceeds to draw conclusions based on unknowns.) Some of her wording is also slightly misleading on an emotional level, such as when she includes the three McCoy sons executed by the Hatfields as among “the McCoy children” who were killed in the feud.
They were grown men, the youngest being 18 and the oldest 28. They were executed because they all three stabbed and shot a Hatfield to death in a fistfight. To classify them as “children” conjures up images of little kids being murdered in cold blood for no apparent reason.
They did have a sister who was later shot and killed during an attack on their cabin by the Hatfields, but she was 29.
The last part of the book flirts heavily with psychology and sociology. While certainly interesting to ponder, all in all I think the author is reading too much into things, and going a bit into left field.
The celebrated norm today is that histories must not only tell what happened, or even why, but should at their root help push forward a certain ideological agenda applicable in today’s society.
This is evident in the book as well, especially in the last part (example: according to the author, and I am paraphrasing, American football is a modern-day extension of the violent, sexist cultural past once prominent in the Appalachian world of the Hatfields and McCoys and elsewhere in America, and is evidence that we have not entirely removed ourselves from the mindset that enabled the bloody feud).
I listed more examples from the book here but deleted them, not wishing to get into an argument with anyone.
All in all, I’m glad I read “Blood Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys – The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance.” It greatly enhanced my understanding of a piece of our American cultural history, which in the end makes me more well-rounded.
I think no greater compliment can be paid to any book.
(Wes Franklin can be reached at (417) 658-8443.)