Esau is a man in the Bible who has become synonymous with disregard for what is sacred in favor of immediate gratification. Thus people in coal mining communities used the term “Esau script” to describe the money that women in coal camps received when desperation forced them to sell their bodies at the company store, often when faced with the eviction of their remaining families after their husbands had been killed in mine accidents. Those who researched and preserved the Whipple Company Store in Fayette County, West Virginia, were the first known to have openly revealed this terrible truth of life in some company mining towns and to preserve this truth in a historical building. I believe that when I was the editor of Appalachian Heritage, I was the first to print an article that openly dealt with this terrible practice of coal operators. It was written by Wes Harris and Mike Kline. Now there is a novel that I believe is the first to openly write of Esau script. The fictional company store at the center of this novel closely resembles the Whipple company store. Perhaps ironically or even appropriately, the novel comes from a Christian publisher. Under a Cloudless Sky is divided into five parts. The first and last parts are set in 1933 and the middle three chapters are set in 2004. The setting during both time periods is primarily a town in the coalfields of West Virginia. In 1933 Ruby and Bean are young best friends despite the fact that one is the daughter of a mine owner and the other of a disgruntled miner. That year several men and a young girl die in the upstairs room of the company store in what comes to be called a massacre. In 2004 Ruby is an old woman living far away but determined to get involved in the controversy swirling around her hometown as a coal company is trying to buy the whole company town from individual home owners to increase coal production and open a Company Store Museum. The author, Chris Fabry, was born and raised in West Virginia and graduated from Marshall University there. He has published over 70 books for all ages, including five that have won Christy Awards. He hosts the daily program, Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio, and is a frequent guest on other Christian radio programs. He now lives in Arizona.
Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House, 2017. 399 pages. Trade paperback, $15.99