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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Oral History, by Lee Smith,is a magical realist novel about 20th-century rural American life. Composed of multiple points of view throughout three generations, it follows the mountain-dwelling Cantrell family near Hoot Owl Holler and the attempt of one of their city-dwelling ancestors, Jennifer, to record their oral culture. Initially motivated by a college class on oral history, Jennifer immerses herself in her family's stories and unintentionally discovers that she is entangled in a web of myth.

The Cantrells' known history begins in 1902, ostensibly when a witch casts a spell on Almarine Cantrell. Intoxicated by her witchcraft, he moves in with the witch, Red Emmy. Upon discovering Emmy's nature, Almarine overcomes the spell to drive her out, only for his own wife (whom he marries later) and one of their twin children to die mysteriously during childbirth, presumably from the witch's revenge. The surviving child, Dory, has the most opaque story, moving among the mountains engaging in multiple strange affairs.

In the present day, Uncle Al kicks Jennifer out, believing that her meddling has gone too far. Jennifer concludes her report with the insight that it is impossible for any oral culture to truly recover, preserve, or "know" a story from somewhere else in time and space.

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