Using alternating first-person narrative and a fractured chronological style, Amy Greene tells the legacy story of an Appalachian family from the early 20th century until the present. It’s a story that touches on “magic and madness, faith and secrets, passion and loss.”
There’s a little magic and a whole lot of madness. Also poverty, neglect, and domestic violence–which is madness, after all. Ms. Greene writes madness capably and with authority. After reading some of her dark, disturbing scenes, we understand how people go over the edge, how something breaks inside them. By using the first person narrative she allows compassion, or at least understanding, of some pretty sketchy characters. And even given the darkness and the hardscrabble lives, there is also tenderness, and redemption.
The Appalachian dialect felt awkward initially, making me wonder why I’d read such good things about the author’s prose. But the strength of the story worked me and I forgot at some point along the way that I was reading dialect. Still, there is something about Appalachian dialect that doesn’t have the same depth or resonance as the characters’ in Their Eyes Were Watching God, or The Color Purple, or The Book of Night Women.
As I began to catch the rhythm of this book, I thought maybe we could look forward to some novels that, like Louise Erdrich’s, explored inter-related characters over a series of several books. Greene is from Tennessee, and her next novel, Long Man, takes place there as well. Interweaving or not, place figures prominently in these two pieces of her fiction. And this author writes Appalachia very, very well.