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June 2017 - Reviews

June 2017 - Reviews

Fiction

The Dead Shall Rise: A Tale of the Mountains by Melanie K. Hutsell. Knoxville, Tennessee: Celtic Cat Publishing, 2016. 189 pages. Trade paperback, $15.00.

Melanie Hutsell was born in Kingsport, Tennessee, and now resides in Maryville, but also spent important time in Union and Rhea Counties, also in Tennessee. She did undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina, and has an MFA from Indiana University. Although this is her first novel, Hutsell has been active in regional writing circles for some time, and her poetry and prose have been published on line and in print. A draft of the first two chapters of this book won the 2001 Tennessee Writers Alliance Novel competition awarded at the Southern Festival of Books. “Full of suspense and magical realism, The Dead Shall Rise creates a landscape, both gorgeous and ominous, for the reader’s exploration.” – Jane Hicks.

 

The Devil’s Trill by Ron Houchin. Charlotte, North Carolina: Mint Hill Books/Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2017. 121 pages. Trade paperback, $12.95.

This novel was written in hopes that its readership would include teenagers as well as grown-ups. Its title comes from the author’s feeling that the best musical expression of the mood of the book would be The Devil’s Trill Sonata by Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770). This is Houchin’s first novel after publishing eight poetry collections beginning in 1997 and a short story collection. Some have received regional honors, and others have been published in Ireland. Houchin is retired from teaching high school language and literature across the river from Huntington, West Virginia, and continues to live on the Ohio River there. This novel is the story of a West Virginia teenager who is obsessed with seeking the supernatural. “Ron Houchin’s The Devil’s Trill is a thrilling and splendidly horrifying tale. But, beyond even that, it’s the story of a hardscrabble group of kids who face the impossible and, in doing so, discover a new kind of strength through friendship. It’s a real gift that Houchin has turned his poetic eye to the inner lives of these children and all they have to teach us about loyalty and courage. I had an absolute blast reading this book.” – Sheldon Lee Compton. “The Devil’s Trill finds teeth in its feverish pacing, poise in the richness of its prose. Ron Houchin has lent a poet’s eye to classic horror suspense, and the result is an unrelenting page-turner spectacularly rendered.” David Joy.

 

Fire Is Your Water by Jim Minick. Athens: Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2017. 344 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $26.95.

Ordinarily I do not cover Pennsylvania, the setting of this book, but it takes place in a mountain town whose culture is clearly Appalachian. The author taught at Radford University for many years and has written two memoirs and two poetry collections that are clearly Appalachian. He now teaches at Augusta University in Southeastern Georgia. “Fire Is Your Water is a most remarkable story of devotion, trust, healing, and misfortune—and of a skeptical raven misnamed Cicero. The personalities portrayed are of their time and place and yet before and beyond them. Minick vividly demonstrates how daily experience transcends itself. And it’s a genuine love story, the best kind of story there is.” – Fred Chappell. “Minick uses an extraordinary mix of realism and enchantment to tell a love story wrapped in horror, fire, and faith. An utterly original novel.” – Lee Smith. “This magical yet real tale of an exceptional love triangle negotiates in vivid and original ways the themes Minick contemplates in all his work: the intersection of the spiritual and the corporal, the jagged edges of fear and love, and the arduous work of ethics and responsibility. An excellent first novel, Fire Is Your Water captures the beauty of transcending one’s deepest sorrow.” – Darnell Arnoult.

 

Small Treasons by Mark Powell. New York: Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster, 2017. 382 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $24.99.

Ron Rash called Mark Powell, “the best Appalachian writer of his generation.” Powell was born in 1976 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina. Julia Elliott notes that Small Treasures is “both richly regional and ambitiously international in scope. Small Treasures probes the murky depths of a troubled marriage, moving between the personal and political with lyrical ease. Powell’s characters – flawed, contemplative, and viscerally alive – pine for meaningful communication as they struggle to ground their identities in a complex world . . . .but not without hope.” Dennis Covington writes, “This terrifying novel is a work of genius . . . Be careful as you read it, but for God’s sake, read it. Powell is something else.” David Joy notes that this novel “achieves that rare balance between complexity and pacing, a story rich and intricate, propulsive and satisfying. Mark Powell has been the South’s best kept secret for far too long.” Those keeping track of the relationship between the economic history of Appalachia and its literary history, starting with steamboat captain George Washington Harris before the Civil War, through John Fox, Jr. and his coal operator brother, will note that Powell’s father is a realtor. Mark Powell teaches English at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.

  

Too Deep for Words by Andrea Boeshaar. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2017. 299 pages. Trade paperback, $14.99.

The tension in his novel arises when the widow of a Union soldier is met at her door in the Shenandoah Valley by her late husband’s best friend, now an officer in the Confederate Army, who vows to protect her. Her impulse is to use this opportunity to spy for the Union, but she knows that could end her protector’s pledge. The author, Andrea Boeshaar, is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers and runs a coaching service for writers called The Writers ER. She is from Wisconsin.

 

POETRY

 

Planet of the Best Love Songs by Ron Houchin. Cliffs of Moher, Ireland: Salmon Poetry, 2017. 83 pages. Trade paperback, $18.94

This is Ron Houchin’s fifth poetry book from the West of Ireland’s largest literary publisher. Salmon was founded and is directed by women and takes pride in the extensive list of female poets it has published. It is equally proud not only of introducing Irish poets who have become well-established, but also the international poets it has published. Houchin has also been published four times by American houses, most recently the Louisiana State University Press, widely considered the most selective of southern poetry publishers. The poems here were first published by fifteen different literary magazines and six anthologies in both Ireland and the U.S., and have appeared in a film, on a broadside, and even been selected by NASA to be on a spaceship that orbited Mars. That experience reinforces the way that these poems are not limited solely to worldly topics but reach beyond into the Solar System.

 

NON-FICTION

50 Cents and a Box Top: The Creative Life of Nashville Session Musician Charlie McCoy by Charlie McCoy with Travis D. Stimeling. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2017. 235 pages with an index, discography, notes on sources, photos and another appendix. Trade paperback, $24.99.

Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, practically all the greats, were backed up by Charlie McCoy at one time or another. McCoy is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Musicians Hall of Fame and the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. He led the “Million Dollar Band” that was featured on Hee Haw for two decades. Viewed as a harmonica virtuoso and a multi-instrumentalist, McCoy performed in three continents during his six-decade career appearing on thousands of country, pop, and rock recordings. His memoir provides important insights into the rise of the Nashville recording scene, as well as the role of television and the life of performers on the road. McCoy was born in Oak Hill, West Virginia, and mostly raised in Fayetteville. Stimeling teaches music history at West Virginia University and directs the WVU Bluegrass and Old-Time Bands. This is his third book.

 

Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory by Qwo-Li Driskill. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2016. 210 pages with an index, works cited, notes and photos. Trade paperback, $29.95.

This is an important book and probably a transformative book for some. Citing the journals some of the first Europeans who encountered Cherokees, including those on the DeSota and Juan Pardo expeditions, and of Henry Timberlake, William Bartrum and James Adair, Driskill re-examines the history of the Cherokees in light to their own view of sexuality and the way that Europeans saw the Cherokees and how Cherokee concepts of sexuality and same sex relationship have evolved. Driskill comes right out and states explicitly that “’gender’ is a weapon to force us into clear Eurocentric categories, keep us confined in there, ensure we monitor each other’s behavior, and then, when we are distracted, take our lands.” He goes on to say, “These colonial logics mean that when we look at our past, we ‘straighten’ it: we make heterosexist and gender-binary assumptions about our ancestors and render a more complicated, erotic, and joyous history invisible” (p. 167). Driskill states, “Regulations of sexuality and anti-Black racism in Cherokee history are inseparable” (p135). The connections between the control of our bodies, sexualities, genders, and landbases as Native people and the control of the bodies, sexualities, genders, and landbases of Black people are inseparable. We all bear the legacies of genocide, land theft, and slavery. We all have a responsibility to each other and to our decolonial imagining to work in alliance” (p. 168).

 

Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Third Edition by Donald W. Linzey. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, a 2016 edition of a 1971 release. 184 pages with an index, “Literature Cited,” a glossary, and a list of locations mentioned complete with elevation, along with at least one color photograph of each mammal covered.. Oversized trade paperback, $24.95.

This book consists primarily of write-ups of seventy-two mammals found in the Park. There are seven orders of mammals found here, ranging from opossums to even-toed ungulates (pigs, elk, deer, and bison – for those who don’t immediately recognize that order). The information provided is fascinating and wide-ranging from the Cherokee name for the mammal to the etymology of the name in English to a complete description, the habitat, sounds, predators, and all kinds of its habits from feeding to nurturing young. The author, Donald Linzey teaches currently at Virginia Tech. He has been working in the Park since 1963 and has had access to the notes of many naturalist familiar with the Park, including Arthur Stupka, former Park biologist.

  

People of the Upper Cumberland: Achievements and Contradictions edited by Michael E. Birdwell and W. Calvin Dickinson. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, a 2017 paperback reprint of a 2015 cloth release. 434 pages with an index, a twenty-nine-page bibliography, and photos. Trade paperback, $38.00.   

The Upper Cumberland is the watershed of the Cumberland River in Kentucky and Tennessee before it flows down from the hills into Nashville. This book consists of fifteen scholarly essays about the watershed of the Upper Cumberland River in Tennessee and Kentucky. Three essays are provided in each of five categories: Regional Overview, Politicians and Politics, Lawyers and Lawbreakers, Medical Men and Women and African Americans and Race Relations. Contributors include a pharmacist, a journalist, three lawyers, four public historians and seven professors. Look here for information on folk medicine, moonshine, native peoples, women, superstitions, and other topics. Essay titles include, “One of the Best-Hated Men of His Day,” “Hard Way to Make a Living,” and “As Long as Your Money Is Green.” Both co-editors have taught or are teaching at Tennessee Tech, and both have authored several books.

 

Southern Appalachian Farm Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Family by Robert G Netherland. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2016. 234 pages with an index of recipes, a list of suggested meals combining these recipes, and photos. Trade paperback, $29.95.

The author, Robert G. Netherland, is the great, great, great grandson of Richard Netherland, who bought, in 1818, an Inn on the Holston River near Kingsport, Tennessee. It served both as a river stop and a stop on an old stage coach road. It is now a museum on the National Register of Historic places. For the first twenty years of his life, from 1946 until 1966, the author lived on the farm of his maternal grandparents, about twelve miles south of the Netherland Inn, near Surgoinsville, Tennessee. This book consists primarily of recipes from that farm at that time along with many memories and explanations of farm life and food culture. “In Southern Appalachian Farm Cooking, a sixth generation highlander writes from the heart and captures not only the food and culture of southern Appalachia, but also the strength and leadership of highly acclaimed women. With its country biscuits, pear butter, and leather britches, Appalachia enjoys an amazing food tradition that is distinct from that of the wider South.” – Mark Sohn.

 

Trial by Trail: Backpacking in the Smoky Mountains: 20th Anniversary Edition by Johnny Molloy. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, a 2016 edition of a 1996 release. 174 pages with photos, a bibliographical essay and a new 16-page preface by the author. Trade paperback, $24.95.

Since publishing the first edition of this book twenty years ago, Johnny Molloy has written sixty – count ‘em! - hiking books covering twenty-six states but centering in the Appalachian South! He now lives in Johnson City, Tennessee. This book is more memoir than trail guide, an engrossing and endearing set of recollections of life on the trail and in the campground that tells a lot about the trails, but even more about how Johnny Molloy enjoyed them.