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June 2018 Reviews

June 2018 Reviews


Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin. New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2018. 343 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $26.99.

The protagonist of this novel, Rice Moore, is working as the caretaker of a forest preserve in the mountains of Virginia. When he begins to find bear carcasses on the land, his efforts to stop the poachers are complicated. He needs to keep his identity secret because before he took this job he aroused the murderous ire of some drug cartel operatives.  And he needs to decide how to relate to the woman who had this job before him, a scientist who has a research project going on this land, and also has a complicated past. Publisher’s Weekly gave this novel a starred review, and called it “A thrilling, thoroughly satisfying debut.” Kirkus Reviews  also gave it a starred review and commented, “It’s a violent, compelling story that uses its milieu to incredible effect . . . An intense, visceral debut equal to the best that country noir has to offer.” The New York Times Book Review called it, “Gruesomely gorgeous. . . . McLaughlin writes about the natural world with a casual lyricism and un-self-conscious joy. . . . The kind of writing that makes me shiver.” The  Washington Post concluded it contained, “some of the best action writing in recent fiction.”  This is McLaughlin’s first novel.  Now in his fifties, he grew up in rural Virginia, has both law and MFA degrees from the University of Virginia, and currently lives in Utah’s Wasatch Range.



Cormac McCarthy’s Violent Destinies: The Poetics of Determinism and Fatalism edited by Brad Bannon and John Vanderheide. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2018. 349 pages with an index and a foreword by Rich Wallach. Hardback with pictorial cover, $60.

Cormac McCarthy has received essentially all of the important national fiction awards and is generally considered one of the preeminent contemporary American novelists. Born McCarthy was born in 1933 in Rhode Island, his father soon became a lawyer for TVA in Knoxville. Cormac lived nearby until the 1960s when he moved out west. His early novels were set in East Tennessee. This book contains eleven essays by scholars from across the United States and Canada and as far away as Denmark. It tackles a very focused dimension of the philosophical underpinnings of Cormac McCarthy’s oeuvre: fatalism and determinism.  Greatest attention here is paid to Blood Meridian and then the Border Trilogy, but McCarthy’s early novels set in East Tennessee are addressed in the essay by Woods Nash that centers on Child of God and co-editor Brad Bannon’s essay, “Fatal Loss and Teleological Blindness in McCarthy’s Tennessee Novels.”  Bannon teaches at the University of Tennessee, and his co-editor, John Vanderheide teaches at Huron University College in Ontario, Canada. “Cormac McCarthy’s Violent Destinies is an intelligently assembled, thoughtful, and original collection of essays that, together, form a useful point of reference in the literature that is greater than the sum of its parts.” - Nicholas Monk.


Liberia, South Carolina: An African American Appalachian Community by John M. Coggeshall. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018. 269 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, appendices, maps, and photos. Trade paperback, $29.95.

Following the Civil War, African-American families established an informal community of settlers in the Blue Ridge Mountains along upper Gowen’s Creek of the Oolenoy River in Pickens County, South Carolina, near the North Carolina line.  Descendants of one of the original families still reside here, and they shared their impressive knowledge of their heritage through the community’s five generations with John M. Coggeshall, an anthropology professor at Clemson University about thirty miles away. Oral history and ethnography are present here, but paramount are the stories of strong Black women, persevering and upholding a devotion to ancestral land, while resisting ever-present racist terror and paternalism. One of the chapters delves in depth into the 1967 bombing of the community’s only church and a nearby residence, and one of the features of this book is its acknowledgement of the contrast between the perceptions of Black and White residents of the Oolenoy River Valley. This book is a beacon for those of us who struggle to uplift the study and celebration of African-American Appalachian communities and people.


Two-Party Politics in the One-Party South: Alabama’s Hill Country, 1874-1920 by Samuel L. Webb. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, a 2018 paperback reprint of a 1997 hardback release. 286 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, a map, and photos. Trade paperback, $29.95.

This book is especially pertinent today after the recent victory by Doug Jones in an Alabama U.S. Senate race for the Democratic Party in a state that went from being dominantly Democratic to dominantly Republican. Populism that led many Alabamans away from the Democratic Party a century ago is now embraced in different ways by both Republicans and Democrats. "This is a valuable study of independent political activity in the mountain and upper piedmont counties of Alabama. It is well organized, imaginatively researched in the relatively limited sources available, and analyzed with consistency and with reference to the work of other scholars."—Appalachian Journal. "Webb has produced a well-written book that deserves the attention of historians interested in Populism and the southern branch of the Republican party."—American Historical Review. "Employing solid evidence from the careers of ex-Populist leaders and from county-level histories of intra- and interparty struggle, Webb makes a convincing case that, in northern Alabama at least, Populism did not fade into crankiness and racism but was transformed into a vital progressivism within the GOP."—Robert McMath, Georgia Institute of Technology. The author, Samuel L. Webb is professor emeritus of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.


Blue Ridge Parkway Through Time  by Amy Waters Yarsinske. Columbia, South Carolina: Fonthill Media/Arcadia Publishing, 2018. 249 pages with a Select Bibliography, Endnotes, and color and/or black-and-white photographs on most of the pages. Trade paperback, $28.99.

Wow, what an amazing collection of historical and contemporary photographs. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile road from Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that follows the crest of the Blue Ridge through Western Virginia and North Carolina and functions as part of the National Park Service. There are no billboards or other commercial enterprises within the often-extensive Parkway right-of-way, and the pastoral and scenic views are spectacular. This book and its photographs mostly show the people of the area through which the Parkway winds, along with some scenery and buildings, and a few shots of road construction and completion. Historic photos by Arthur Rothstein and Bayard Wooten, mostly taken before the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway began in 1935, highlight the first chapter, but historic photographs can be found throughout. The first Parkway milepost signs were erected in 1941, and then World War II slowed progress even further. By 1968 all construction was completed except for a final seven-mile stretch on the side of Grandfather Mountain. That section was completed in 1987 with construction of the Linn Cove Viaduct that allows wildlife to pass under the roadway. Amy Waters Yarsinske is the author of over 80 non-fiction books. She lives in Norfolk, Virginia.



Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Poems by Jesse-Ray Lewis. Location unstated: WriteLife Publishing/Boutique of Quality Books, 2018. 83 pages with drawings and a picture of the author. Trade paperback, $10.95.

These accessible, straight-forward poems are mostly autobiographical, telling of the author’s experience confirming in a hospital that he was born into addiction and expressing his experiences of being in the foster care system from age 12 to 18, and aging out of that system in 2016 into a world of drug dealing not that different from his childhood.  No mention is made of any localities beyond, “Appalachia.” “From raw pain to poignant reflection, poet Jesse-Ray Lewis plumbs the depths of despair with his words . . . digging deep to find the gentle heart that lies beneath.” – Saundra Kelley.