Tag Archives: Appalachian fiction

CHELSIE DUBAY’S MONDAY BOOK

Book Review – Clay’s Quilt

bookcover_claysquiltI assigned Clay’s Quilt, by Silas House, as part of an Appalachian Literature course I was teaching, without ever reading it. I recognize House as a major player in the modern Appalachian Literature movement but sadly, I have read only a small sampling of his work. I chose Clay’s Quilt based solely on its name. Superficial, yes. My hope was that House titled this work not only as a clever homage to Appalachian cultural practice but also as an attribute of how the story unfolds.

Clay’s Quilt is an authentic representation of modern Appalachian life and culture. The novel follows Clay Sizemore, a young miner living in rural Kentucky, through his young-adult years. A flashback scene serves as the novel’s opening. In this scene, we learn that Anneth, Clay’s mother, died when he was only four years old. Since his mother’s death, Clay has been searching for the comfort and peace that can only be found at “home.” For Clay, however, the road that leads him to this proverbial home is as winding and untamed as the old coal roads that deliver him into the dark, foreboding coal mines each day.

Through House’s narrative, the reader is able to piece together Clay’s life and the relationships held within it much like piecing together a quilt. Clay’s character is first established as a bit of a wild party boy. House is able to paint this picture through Clay’s weekly visits to the local bar, the Hilltop, where he and his friend Cake usually end up drunk, stoned, and looking for trouble. Clay’s entire character shifts when he meets Alma, an abused wife and fiddle player with steadfast morals that are deeply rooted in her family’s Pentecostal faith. The story’s greatest tension derives, ironically so, from the internal struggle Alma faces as she considers officially filing for divorce in an effort to foster a relationship with Clay. Alma’s struggles introduce the reader to the violence and drama that provide this story with an interesting turn of events. The story ends in a very generic “they lived happily ever after” way, complete with a final scene that helps support the novel’s title.

I loved the effortless way House uses narrative to embed aspects of Appalachian culture into the story. The ways in which he creates vivid images of place relates directly to the characters’ quest to find “home.” The reader is able to visualize every setting – the feel of a muddy path up to a wildflower field or the smell of home cookin’ in Aunt Easter’s kitchen. Each description is tangible. He is able to articulate the importance of family and close-knit relationships felt within many Appalachian families. House deposits idioms and regional colloquialisms that help establish the work as authentic without seeming fake or forced – an aspect I appreciate above all others.

One of the strengths of this novel is the authenticity of its delivery. Whether in dialogue between characters, descriptive phrasing used to create settings, or the non-abrasive influences of faith, family, and music, House is able to weave together these elements in an effort to create each character’s storyline. The language used throughout the novel seems real instead of forced. House is able to integrate multiple aspects of Appalachian culture, especially in terms of familial relationships and religious undertone, that work together to create the bonds shared between the characters and their homestead.

On a personal note, I reached out to House and asked for help and advice with my own Appalachian Literature course. His response was helpful, optimistic, and timely – all things I can appreciate. He shared in my charge to ensure that this body of work – Appalachian Literature – continues to have a place and a champion in today’s literary cannon.

 

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: REQUIEM BY FIRE, a novel by Wayne Caldwell

requiemSorry so many Mondays have slipped past. I have started many books that didn’t make me want to finish them, this past month. And then came REQUIEM, a story so enticing it makes me go to bed early just so I can read.

The book is set in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and focuses on what the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park did to the people it bumped.

I know these people – Jim the local boy who wants to return home and work, the successful man; his wife Nell who wants to follow in the footsteps of her overbearing mother and get the hell outta there to a place with electricity and running water; Silas the contrarian who will be carried off the mountain feet-first, one way or another; the lawyer who turns on his own people and gets over his regret. They sound like stereotypes, but these folk walk, eat, and most definitely talk like real North Carolinians.

The tension between the people who live on (and off of) the land, and the government officials, some clueless, some very clued up indeed, flows under the rest of the action. Actually, this book is less action than scene by scene contacts between people, dialogue sent against lightly descriptive background. I am a sucker for well-drawn characters having pithy, realistic conversations, and this book is that in spades. Not a fan of a lot of description myself, I nevertheless was hooked by the opening scene of the novel, depicting an act of benevolent arson.

The ending will not be given away in a spoiler because I haven’t finished it yet. This is a book to savor. I’m so glad to have found something that restores my faith in Appalachian fiction!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing