Academic journal article Western Folklore

Scipio Storytelling: Talk in a Southern Indiana Community

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Scipio Storytelling: Talk in a Southern Indiana Community

Article excerpt

Scipio Storytelling: Talk in a Southern Indiana Community. By Margaret Read MacDonald. (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1996. Pp. v + 233, photographs, index. $34.00 paper, $54.00 cloth)

You can't take yourself too seriously in Scipio.

This small community in southern Indiana-with its solitary corner grocery, its two churches, its fifty houses, and its garage that no longer supplies gasoline-inspires good friends to gather from time to time, chat randomly until someone happens upon a topic for which Spiv Helt, Pert Helt, Jack McConnell, or one of the other master tellers has a tale, and then take part in the retelling of a funny, embarrassing, good-natured anecdote.

This book does a good job of capturing the charm of the town and the warmth of a small group of people who come together for a few hours each New Year's Eve to let time go by and to enjoy each other's company. The author is careful to let these people speak for themselves. They are not representatives of the town, or of southern Indiana, or of the Midwest-they are friendly, quick-wined individuals who like a good laugh. On the second page of the Preface, before any stories have been recounted or any theories have been explicated, the author introduces each of the people involved, one at a time, with a short paragraph about the person's career, relationships, nickname, or personality. They are people first, storytellers second, and informants third, just as it should be.

The author sets as her goal some insight into why some stories succeed while others fizzle into polite reactions and discreet death. Storytelling is an art form, and this book explores that artistry in the particular context of Scipio. The rules of good storytelling, the author explains, are definite and clearly understood, and this book is her attempt to get at them.

The book's material is presented in clear, easily comprehensible prose, and the author defines her terms precisely. A "story," in Scipio, is a "structured, humorous anecdote about something that happened to someone in Scipio or someone known to someone who lives in Scipio"-in other words, humorous local legends and anecdotes, believed to be true. 'Travelling jokes are also told but seem less important to most Scipio tellers than stories that 'really happened."' (1)

The transcribed tales are presented with a modest nod toward ethnopoetics, minimal and not jarring. …

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