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Genesis Road by Susan O’Dell Underwood

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Those not previously aware will notice on the first page that this is a poet writing, and be grateful. Cocke County, Tennessee, is real, but the characters and a road there called Genesis are fiction. That is the perfect name for the road where Glenna Daniels lived at the foot of English Mountain (real) until she was ten and her home burned down. That disaster was the genesis of Glenna’s distrust of her father, Glen, and the source of her will to survive and the beginning of the reader’s wonder of what else will emerge in the life of this compelling protagonist. The story begins when Glenna is thirty-six with a dramatic scene that encapsulates a miscarriage, divorce, and her father’s death in another house fire. Never again reaching that great a crescendo, the novel still is action-packed throughout. Homeless after this fire, Glenna agrees to embark on a cross-country trip with Carey, a gay man she protected from bullies when they were kids. Their life stories are told as they converse on the trip and contemplate indigenous cultures and gems of American history along the way. This novel engages the reader with its compelling plot, kaleidoscope settings, endearing characters, poetic language, and weighty themes. It leaves lots of room for reader rumination. “Glenna Daniels of Genesis Road joins a long tradition of Appalachian narrators bound to home and bound to leave. . . . The humor and warmth of intimates on the road interlaces with Glenna’s account of her past full of regret, hurt and the rare tender moments of salvation. Underwood’s compassionate novel allows us to journey with her characters into a more deeply understood sense of self and belonging.” -- Jessie van Eerden. “Underwood carves out a deeply rendered story of America that reveals the deep scars of its history even as it is also a place where we love and lose each other, searching for a definition of home” – Mike Hilbig.  Susan Underwood grew up in Bristol, Tennessee, and heads the creative writing program at Carson-Newman College, also in East Tennessee. The daughter and granddaughter of public-school teachers who also farmed, she is the author of two chapbooks and one poetry collection.

Lake Dallas, Texas: Madville Publishing, 2022. 342 pages. Trade paperback.