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August 2020 Reviews

August 2020 Reviews


Even As We Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle. Lexington: Fireside Industries/University Press of Kentucky, 2020. 240 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $24.95.

Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle is the grand-daughter of Osley Bird Saunooke who served as the Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians from 1951 to 1955 and again from 1959 to 1963. He was also elected vice-president of the National Congress of American Indians and lobbied extensively in Washington, D. C. for native peoples nationally and in North Carolina. A veteran of the Marines, he held the world heavyweight wrestling championship from 1937 until 1951. Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle also is a distinguished enrolled member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. She is a Yale graduate; has a Masters from William and Mary, served as the Executive Director of the formidable Cherokee Preservation Foundation, served as co-editor of the Journal of Cherokee Studies, and serves on the Board of the North Carolina Writers Network. She teaches English at Swain County High School. Before publishing this, her first novel, she had already won two national creative writing awards. O.K., but what about her novel? Think of the worlds that Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle has inhabited. Think of the wisdom that she has absorbed from those worlds. That way, this novel will not be shocking to you. You will not wonder how a novel can be so nuanced, so - what is the word for nuanced in the nth degree? You will not wonder why her protagonist, a Cherokee youth, couldn’t just relate to his home on the Qualla Boundary. He had to get a job at the only place within commuting distance that contained people with an almost unimaginatively diverse human experience.  Good thing we have an author with such a vivid and deep imagination and experience to take us there. Her protagonist, Cowney Sequoyah, gets a job at the Grove Park Inn, Asheville’s classiest hotel.  The year is 1942, and the highest ranking diplomats of the Axis Powers are prisoners there, held by some of the most looked-down-upon white Americans – hillbillies. This novel is profound, poetic, prophetic, pleasurable, passionate. provoking of thought. What more could you want? "Even as We Breathe slowly builds from a seemingly simple tale of first love into a meditation on the deepest mysteries and contradictions of human existence. The novel's final paragraph is a particular marvel, rippling back through the book and carrying the reader with it into the sublime. Annette Clapsaddle is an exceptional writer, and an important voice in Appalachia's literature."―Ron Rash. The distinct features of Cowney's Qualla Boundary home, where a freed circus capuchin explores the treelines, a mystical waterfall cave waits in the mist, and fires and outsiders are a constant annoyance, glitter among the book's mysteries and surprises. . . . Avoided family truths become a source of freedom in [this] fascinating historical novel."―Foreword Reviews. "Even As We Breathe is a fresh, welcome, and much needed addition to the fiction of the Appalachian South and its neglected people and places. Clapsaddle creates characters with sensitivity, subtlety, humor, and warmth. A splendid debut by a writer well worth following."―Charles Frazier. Even As We Breathe is a wonderful novel, complicated as life itself―thrilling, mysterious, and finally, a revelation!"―Lee Smith. “This is a masterful debut from the writer we need right now."―David Joy.


Every Bone a Prayer by Ashley Blooms. Napierville, Illinois: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2020. 352 pages. Trade paperback with a reading group guide and a conversation with the author, $16.99.

At the beginning of this book is “A Word from the Author.” It says that the book “is about trauma, vulnerability, and healing.” She goes on, “As a survivor and as someone with PTSD, trigger or content warning have helped me . . . so . . . I’d like you to know that it contains depictions of sexual abuse between children, domestic violence, emotional abuse, depictions of Evangelical  Faith, and body horror/grotesque imagery.” She does not write this to hype up her book. She writes this as a survivor to other survivors. It is a book about recovery from abuse and trauma. It does not exploit it or embrace it. This book depicts a character, Misty, who is coming to grips with her trauma and is trying valiantly to overcome it. "I have loved Every Bone a Prayer since I saw an early draft years ago, loved Misty, her family, her secret talents, and the way she sees the world around her, from the crawfish in muddy water to the ghostly trees she runs past in the night, to the trailer park where she and her family barely survive. This is a book and a writer I highly recommend." - Dorothy Allison. "Every Bone A Prayer is a difficult, important, and beautifully rendered story of generational trauma, survival, and healing. The characters I met within its pages have stayed with me, their names and stories etched on my memory." – NPR. "In this haunting debut novel, Blooms makes a mystical exploration of the hidden power that lies within and the strategies assault survivors can undertake to regain a feeling of ownership over body and mind." – Booklist. "This is the kind of book we need to set literary expectations for a new decade. It's so textured, so layered with love and so wonderfully terrifying, intimate and magical." - Kiese Laymon. The author, Ashley Blooms, grew up on Cutshin Creek in Leslie County, Kentucky, deep in the mountains in the kind of setting she chose for her debut novel. Her MFA is from the University of Mississippi.


In the Valley by Ron Rash. New York: Doubleday, 2020. 240 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $26.95

The title of this book is also the title of the novella contained within it along with nine short stories. The title novella, “In the Valley,” returns the reader to the story of Serena Pemberton, the protagonist of Rash’s novel that enjoyed the greatest commercial success, Serena. It made the New York Times best-seller lists and became a Hollywood movie. The nine stories are also an attraction of this book. After all, Rash won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award for Nothing Gold Can Stay, as the best collection in the English language that year!  His story collection, Chemistry and Other Stories, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. The stories here include one chosen for The Best American Short Stories of 2018 and another chosen for The Best American Mystery Stories, 2019. “Mesmerizing...In the Valley takes Serena to such a fever pitch of destruction that in a lesser writer's hands it might seem overheated. But Rash maintains the deep keel that has always distinguished him...He's one of the best living American writers, and his laconic understatement is much more powerful than excess…Haunting and darkly funny.”—Janet Maslin. “Rash’s best genre...Rash is expert at revealing the sword of vengeance’s double edge—how honed it is, how it cuts whomever wields it...A brace of strong stories, and the [title] novella’s a fine, suspenseful contribution to the thriving genre of Appalachian mayhem.”—Kirkus, starred review. “Revelatory...In simple but eloquent prose, Rash describes the vulnerabilities, fears, and desires of his characters and shows how often they unite persons from vastly different walks of life and social strata. The skillful craftsmanship of these tales and their subtle but powerful climaxes make for profoundly moving reading.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review. The author, Ron Rash, is the Parris Distinguished Professor in Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University and lives in Clemson, South Carolina.


When These Mountains Burn by David Joy. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 272 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $27.00.

This is the fourth novel by David Joy, formerly a student of Ron Rash who is nipping at his mentor’s heels in terms of accolades from people who matter. After graduating from Western Carolina University, Joy settled down nearby and has been able to make a living as a writer ever since! The protagonist of this novel is Denny Rattler, a victim of the opioid epidemic who victimizes others to sustain his habit. DEA agents figure into his story that revolves around how his father, Raymond Mathis, will chose to defend his son. “Indelible characters from every side of the law converge in this fast-moving story. As fine a piece of writing as you are ever likely to encounter.”—Lee Smith. “The story is fast-moving, the characters are richly fleshed out, and despite its gritty settings and subject matter, wraps up with a sense of redemption and hope for the possibility of better days ahead. Simply put, Joy is at the top of his game.”—Sylva Herald. “With memorable characters, deft plotting, and an attention to detail, Joy has written a powerful work of crime fiction."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review. “Unforgettably powerful. . . What stands out here isn’t the story [but] rather Joy’s unflinching and gritty depiction of his fully realized characters, from their raw loss to their helplessness and rage to their final acceptance. Joy has thoroughly captured their experiences in vivid, memorable prose that burns to be read.”—BookPage. "Joy portrays his characters with unflinching realism. Creative turns of phrase and creative colloquialisms move the story forward and keep the otherwise disheartening subject matter full of thrilling surprises. As Southern noir-tinged fiction gains a well-deserved audience, Joy is one voice that never disappoints.”—Booklist. “[An] engrossing drama of violence and vengeance. . . Joy’s razor-sharp prose details disturbing, graphic images of brutality that begin when Raymond resolves to protect his son. . .  Joy handles everything with ease, proving himself to be one hell of a writer.”—Publishers Weekly,



After Virginia Tech: Guns, Safety, and Healing in the Era of Mass Shootings by Thomas P. Kapsidelis. Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, a 2020 paperback reprint of a 2019 release. 272 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, and photos. Trade paperback, $19.95.

This book examines the ten years after the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech that killed twenty-seven students and five faculty from the perspective of people who have tried to effect meaningful changes that could preclude or ameliorate such tragedies in the future. It focuses on grief, trauma, physical and emotional healing, (affecting not just victims, but police and chaplains), gun safety, campus security, and mental health. “Kapsidelis tells the story of mass shootings unwaveringly from the perspective of survivors. His voice is quiet, empathetic, sensitive, trustworthy, accurate, and never overwrought, conveying empathy without pathos. Kapsidelis’s account of the actual day of the shooting, and the shooting itself, is brilliant. At a time when guns are posited as the only way to preserve life and safety, the events at Virginia Tech suggest that there are other means of survival and heroism.” - -Pamela Haag. Well-researched and clearly written, [the] book's major accomplishment is the author's exploration of the healing process.... Too many accounts of murderous rampages fail to offer long-term insights into the trauma faced by survivors, but Kapsidelis provides useful information on the topic, including discussions of 'gun violence as a health issue.'... An important book for policymakers and those interested in the continuing, depressingly widespread instances of gun violence.  -- Kirkus Reviews.The author, Thomas P. Kapsidelis, is a professor of Journalism at the University of Richmond who worked at the Richmond Tiomes-Dispatch for twenty-eight years. 


Appalachian Fall: Dispatches from Coal Country on What’s Ailing America by Jeff Young. New York: Tiller Press/Simon & Schuster, 2020. 241 pages with an Index, Notes, and photos. Hardback in dust jacket, $24.99

The basic thrust of this book is that what afflicts Appalachia is perhaps only quantitatively different from the rest of the country and that solutions for Appalachia have the potential to ward off or ameliorate problems looming for the rest of the country. The eleven chapters are interrupted with profiles of particular people who exemplify the personal impact of the issues discussed. The first two chapters deal with underground coal mining, and the profile is of a retired union miner.  The next two chapters focus on black lung and the profile is of a nurse. Then there are three chapters on wider environmental health issues with a profile of two doctors. The next three chapters deal with politics with a profile of a father-son team of activists. The book ends with a chapter exploring the concept of a “just transition” away from fossil fuels and toward a meaningful prosperity for the region. The author is Jeff Young, the managing editor of Ohio Valley ReSource, a regional journalists’ collaborative of eight writers who participated in creating this book. “Blunt, essential reading on today's Appalachia that is less elegiac and more forward-thinking than most." —Kirkus Reviews. The author is a fellow at Virginia Humanities who worked by the Richmond Post-Dispatch as a journalist for twenty-eight years.


Death at Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies that Delivered the Opioid Epidemic by Eric Eyre. New York: Scribners, 2020. 304 pages with an Index and Notes. Hardback in dust jacket, $28.00.

This book follows up on the reporting that the author did for the Charleston [W.V.] Gazette-Mail that garnered him a Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting, an award that had never gone to a newspaper with a smaller circulation. He looked particularly closely at Kermit, West Virginia, a town of 382 people where the pharmaceutical industry almost nine-million opioid pills in two years and profiles victims and activists there. "I thought I knew about the roots of the opioid crisis in rural Appalachia. Then, I read this book with my mouth agape. The larger-than-life characters, the vivid scenes, so many deaths, and so much money made from an alliance of local crooks and global corporations. With searing storytelling and deep investigative reporting, Eric Eyre has written an indispensable book that you won't be able to put down." – Anna Sale. "Eric Eyre represents the absolute best of newspaper reporting: He’s dogged, fair, and as scrappy as the mountains he calls home. His book, Death in Mud Lick, is a riveting, intimate look at the corporate greed, regulatory failure and lobbying shenanigans that led to pill mills complete with “courtesy snacks” and cash registers so full they wouldn’t close. In the most opioid-ravaged place in America, Eyre makes you see the opioid crisis anew."—Beth Macy. "At the Gazette-Mail, Eyre’s career has been the stuff of quiet legend ... Eyre served his community in a time of need. With his new book, he took the death of a coal miner, William (Bull) Preece, found dead in a trailer in Mud Lick amid a residue of crushed pills, and told the how and the why. His reporting led to restrictions on prescriptions, greater tracking, more transparency. He shamed an industry and saved lives. Working at a small newspaper, Eyre made a big difference." “Timely and well documented, with appeal to a broad range of readers.”Library Journal, starred review. “Packed with colorful details and startling statistics, this page-turning journalistic thriller shines a brilliant spotlight on a national tragedy.”Publishers Weekly, starred review. "Compellingly told ... a tale of compassionate people deeply wronged and a dogged journalist who won't stand for it."Booklist, starred review. "Powerful . . . . [Eyre] writes with candor and gravity; a tensile rod of human decency braces every paragraph. . . . .  [Death in Mud Lick] is the work of an author who understands that objectivity is not the same as bland neutrality. I expect it will be taught to aspiring reporters for many years to come. It's the story of an epidemic; it's also the story of a newspaper."New York Times.


Medicinal Plants of Appalachia: A Field Guide to Traditional Medicinal Plants of the Appalachian Region by Steve Chadde. Sullivan, Indiana: Orchard Innovations, 2020. 284 pages with, after the 14-page introduction, a color map on every other page and opposite that page a full page of color illustrations of plants.  Indexes of both common and scientific names, Resources, and two Appendices. Trade paperback, $24.95.

The Introduction does a good quick job providing an overview of the folklore, the history, the plant parts, and the plant ingredients of regional medicinal plants, and then the rest of the book is devoted to a brief introduction to 125 plants in four categories: Trees, Shrubs, Herbs (mostly wildflowers) and Ferns. Now book can be more helpful if your goal is to locate medicinal plants in our region. The author, Steve W. Chadde, has written about half a dozen plant identification guides for Alaska and the Upper Midwest. He has worked for the USDA Forest Service and the Nature Conservancy. He now runs a home and garden shop specializing in all kinds of products for orchards in Sullivan, Indiana.


Redemption from Tyranny: Herman Husband’s American Revolution by Bruce E. Stewart. Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 2020. 248 pages with Index, Bibliography, Notes and Illustrations. Hardback in dust jacket, $29.95.

Herman Husband (1724-1795) was born in Maryland but moved to Sandy Creek, North Carolina, in 1762. Four years later he was an organizer of a local Association formed to support local farmers over wealth land-owners. He was jailed until an angry mob of supporters released him.  In 1768 when the Regulators formed, Husband became a leading spokesman and pamphleteer. The Royal Governor denounced him and arrested him. The next year, Husband was elected to the North Carolina legislature from which he was expelled, charged and jailed, but released and in 1770 and published a book about the Regulators. The following year, when the movement was defeated in the Battle of Alamance, Husband moved back to Maryland, and from there to Pennsylvania, where he continued to publish pamphlets about the issues of the common people and lived under an assumed name until after the American Revolution. In the 1790s he he participated in the Whiskey Rebellion for which he was tried and sentenced to death, but, again, he was released by the actions of his supporters. I admit he lived on the periphery of Southern Appalachia, but what a cool guy! “The world has waited long enough for a scholarly biography of Herman Husband, and Stewart fills the void wonderfully with this insightful and clearly written narrative. With his new archival discoveries, he is able to depict Husband as considerably more complex than the heroic figure of legend.” -- Woody Holton. “Redemption from Tyranny will fill an enormous lacuna in the literature on eighteenth-century American politics and revolution. Herman Husband was a key actor from the rising of the North Carolina Regulators to the opening of the Revolution, and then the Whiskey Rebellion: Stewart has put this story together, explaining Husband and his world in clear, easy prose.” --John L. Brooke. The author, Bruce E. Stewart, teaches history at Appalachian State University and is the author of Blood in the Hills: A History of Violence in Appalachia.