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January 2017 - Reviews

January 2017 - Reviews


Thomas Wolfe and Lost Children in Southern Literature by Paula Gallant Eckard. Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press, 2016.  213 pages with an index and works cited. Hardback with pictorial cover. $45.

This book of literary criticism takes The Lost Boy by Thomas Wolfe as a jumping off place for considering seven other southern novels, with young characters, including four others from Appalachian Literature: Prodigals by Mark Powell,  On Agate Hill by Lee Smith, I Am One of You Forever  by Fred Chappell, and Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons. The author has published books on Lee Smith, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Toni Morrison.  She is an English professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “Eckard not only explores the utterly teachable The Lost Boy, she also provides substantive and provocative readings of a wide variety of contemporary Southern fiction.” – Margaret M. Bauer.

Cormac McCarthy’s Literary Evolution: Editors, Agents, and the Crafting of a Prolific American Author by Daniel Robert King. Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press, 2016. 232 pages, with an index, bibliography, and notes. Hardback with pictorial cover, $42.

Cormac McCarthy, is the Knoxville native whose literary career focused on his native East Tennessee before he moved to El Paso and then New Mexico and began setting his works in the West. He has won most prestigious literary prizes and has as high a profile as any American novelist both in this country and abroad. Rick Wallach, an independent scholar who has played a key role in the Cormac McCarthy Society for years, sums up this important study: “Daniel King has performed a service long overdue for scholars and avid readers of McCarthy’s works. Incorporating correspondence to and from his editors and agents, and relating comments he penciled into the margins of his in-progress manuscripts, King has given us a finely detailed portrait of the craftsman at work. It’s an enjoyable account of how McCarthy revised reconsidered, and ultimately built the novels which so challenge and delight us.” Six of the seven chapters focus on a particular novel. King lives and teaches in Britain.

Trial by Trail: Backpacking in the Smoky Mountains by Johnny Molloy. Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press, a 20th Anniversary Third Edition with a new preface  of a 1996 release. 174 pages with photos and a bibliographic essay. Trade paperback, $25.

Organized by three or four personal essays for each of the four seasons, this update of Molloy’s first of over sixty guide books clearly demonstrates both his charm and the wisdom of his tips. “Johnny Mulloy’s treks into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have taken him from ill-prepared beginner to accomplished backpacker.  He tells his stories well.  You will enjoy them—and learn from them.” – San Venable. Johnny Molloy lives in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books, 2016. 308 pages.  Hardback in dust jacket,  $26.

Robert Morgan is the distinguished, award-winning, author of fifteen poetry books, three story collections, seven novels, and three non-fiction volumes.  “Robert Morgan’s true landscape is, as with all great writers, the peaks and valleys, the long and winding paths, of the human heart.” – Ron Rash. “In Morgan’s hands . . . details become the stuff of stern, gripping drama.” – The New York Times. “Robert Morgan should be declared a national treasure.” – The Charlotte Observer.  This book, Morgan’s eighth novel, Chasing the North Star, joins, for the first time, the North/South Carolina border where he was born and raised with upstate New York where he has been a Cornell professor for forty five years. Morgan does this by following a fictional 18-year-old black slave, Jonah Williams, escaping in 1850 by following the north star.  He, in turn, is being followed by another escaping slave, a young woman, who thinks Williams is much less naïve and unprepared than he actually is.

Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town by Ellen Griffith Spears. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016. 440 pages, thirty of them her bibliography, along with an index, notes and photos. Trade paperback, $28.

This book is amazing in its depth and scope.  It is also a heartening chronicle of how citizens in a place notorious for its racism can bounce back to become the local for a model citizen’s struggle against environmental racism.  Anniston, Alabama, was where, in 1961, the freedom rider’s bus was burned up and they were beaten up.  The 1990s struggles pitted black and white citizens against two of America’s most powerful polluters: a U.S. Army Depot and Monsanto. “An important study in the ongoing effort to document and understand the huge legacy of environmental racism in our past. Hopefully this story will help spur us to fight against the ongoing scourge of environmental injustice in frontline communities.” – Bill McKibben.

Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett edited by Bernard L. Herman. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016. 84 pages full of color plates.  An oversized hardback in dust jacket, $45.

Ronald Lockett died of AIDS at the age of 32 in 1998 before his reputation as an artist was as well recognized as it is today.  Specializing in transforming found, often discarded, items into stunning works of art, Lockett, a black native and resident of Bessemer, Alabama, deeply incorporated a wide range of important themes into his art. This coffee table book juxtaposes six essays about Lockett with his art. Both the art and the essays are stunning.

Mammals of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Third Edition by Donald W. Linzey.  Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, the third edition, 2016, of a 1971 release, also released in a second edition in 1995.  184 pages with an index,  literature cited, glossary, and a annotated list of localities mentioned, along with 72 color photographs. Oversized trade paperback. $25.

This book has color photographs and descriptions of the 72 mammals of the park.  This edition includes three newly discovered species, two newly introduced.  The list of species in the surrounding areas for this edition has been reduced from nine to seven to four.  Improvements for this edition include the Cherokee names for the mammals when known. The author Donald W. Linzey is the author of A Natural History Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  He serves as a professor of biology at Wytheville Community College and is also on the faculty at Virginia Tech. 

The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt by Maria M. Cornelius.  Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2016.  311 pages with an index and some photos. Hardback in dust jacket, $30.

Pat Summitt (1952-2016) was a women’s college basketball coach who won over a thousand games and eight national championships. In the summer of 2011 she was diagnosed with dementia. This book tells the story of her final season – 2011-2012. “With a blend of poignant emotion and the objectivity of a journalist, Cornelius takes the reader behind the scenes to witness Summitt’s final year as a coach.” – Joan Cronan.



A Life for a Life by Lynda McDaniel. Sebastapol, California: Lynda McDaniel Books, 2016.  329 pages. Trade paperback, $12.

Lynda McDaniel grew up in Cleveland and now lives in Sonoma County, California, but she says that after she left the North Carolina Mountains thirty years ago she realized how often the stories she tells take place there. And she credits the Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, in particular for inspiring her writing career.  This is her 15th book, including books on writing books. A Life for a Life is a mystery novel set in Western North Carolina. “McDaniel delivers a pair of unforgettable crime-solving characters . . . she lured me into her story and kept me there.” Virginia McCullough.

Song Without a Melody: A Novel of the ‘90s by Ace Boggess.  Hamilton, Ontario: Hyperborea Publishing, 2016. 251 pages.  Trade paperback, $13.

Ace Boggess, a free-lance writer and editor out of Charleston, West Virginia, has been very active in the West Virginia literary scene for decades.  Thus it is no surprise that this, his first novel after two poetry books, saw seven different excerpts published in literary magazines prior to their all coming together in this published novel.  A Song Without a Melody centers around a romance – fueled by sex, drugs, and self-discovery - between Collin Hearst, a newspaper reporter, and December Leigh, the lead singer of an alternative rock band.  A Song Without a Melody is Ace Boggess at his best: lurid prose, a strong sense of place, and the heart and forward momentum that makes him a master storyteller.” – Eliot Parker.