Spartanburg poet and nonfiction writer John Lane has broken out of his comfort zone and journeyed into the netherworld of the novel and Appalachian noir. Joining company with Ron Rash, Charles Frazier, Wayne Caldwell, Wiley Cash, Pam Duncan and David Joy, Lane has maybe even raised the bar a bit by dovetailing the upstate South Carolina textile mill culture with that of the Western North Carolina farming communities. Talk about conflict! In Fate Moreland’s Widow, conflict crosses state lines and cultures and embodies the tensions and inequities in characters redolent of the haves and the have-nots and of labor unions vs. the business elite on both sides of clearly drawn lines.
Many Americans — and I count myself among them — are often hard on Europeans when it comes to issues like national defense, appeasement, and willingness to stand up to enemies. We belittle their failure to resist recent Russian intrusions in the Ukraine, we urge them to take a stronger stand in the Middle East, and we shake our heads at their lack of military preparedness.
Irish novelist Kennedy Marr is making millions of dollars through the sale of his books and as a Hollywood scriptwriter. Directors vie for his scripts, actresses and actors want to perform in his movies, and a university in England offers him a fabulous sum to teach for one year.
Like some other readers I know, my taste in books these last 20 years or so has shifted from fiction to non-fiction, especially history, biography, and literary studies. I still follow certain novelists — Anne Tyler, Pat Conroy, James Lee Burke, and others — and still review novels for this paper, but find that works of fiction simply don’t appeal as much as when I was in my twenties and thirties, when I read stacks of novels and poetry.
I spent a week reading this novel, and each time I laid it down, I expected to find a damp spot under it when I picked it up again. Rivers is about rain — unrelenting, unforgiving rain. This novel begins, “It had been raining for weeks. Maybe months. He had forgotten the last day that it hadn’t rained.” The world seemed to be dissolving around Cohen. Even the lumber that he used in his futile attempts to build an addition to his house became spongy and fell away as though rejecting its own nature. Even the land had become shifting mud and flowed away.
In Annaliese From Off (Five Points Press, ISBN 978-0-692-24434-0, 362 pages, $15.99), Lindy Keane Carter gives us a rich, old-fashioned family saga set in the Georgia hills at the turn of the last century.
The year is 1900, and John Stregal, a prosperous attorney living a comfortable life in Louisville, Kentucky, believes that he can make a fortune harvesting timber in Georgia. He forces his wife, Annaliese, and their children to make the move into this primitive community, promising them that they will all return home in two years. Accompanying them on this journey are John’s brother and partner, Ben, and his wife Lucenia, whom Annaliese dislikes and who advocates for the social justice causes of the day, including women’s rights and birth control.
Eighteen-year-old Jacob McNeely, a shy high school dropout from Walter Middleton High School in Jackson County, North Carolina, seems resigned to a bleak future: As the son of Charlie McNeely, the biggest drug dealer in Cashiers Valley (and Laura, a mother who is a hopeless crack addict), his options are woefully limited. He can continue to endure his father’s contempt and abuse as he performs menial (drug-related) tasks, or he can venture into the world outside the mountains ... a prospect for which he has no training or aptitude. (At one point, Jacob wryly notes that he could count the times that his father had been proud of him on one hand, even if he had lost two or three fingers in a saw mill accident.)
“In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
— George Orwell
We live in an age — the relativity of truth — in which Orwell’s adage seems as dated as monocles or top hats. Just as Darwin’s theory of evolution led to Social Darwinism, a philosophy pitting one human being against another with survival of the fittest as the supreme law for success, so Einstein’s theory of relativity changed popular philosophy and cultural mores as radically as it did the study of physics.
One of my bookshelves is reserved for books that I have not read, but that I am saving for some special event. What I want is the pleasure of reading without a deadline hanging over my head. I actually buy books and put them on the shelf, reserved for “when I get the flu.”
Joe has been on that shelf for more than 15 years. Each time I take it down and read a page or two, I put it back. “No, that is too good to waste by “speed reading.” Take your time. OK, the time has come.
Note to readers: this is one of the few times I have written a column addressed to one sex — or gender, if you prefer that term. This one is for the guys facing the next holiday.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and there they are, shuffling through the checkout line of the grocery store in the late afternoon, men holding roses and boxes of chocolates, each of them looking sheepish and angry. The embarrassment stems from the fact that they have once again forgotten Valentine’s Day, the anger from Valentine’s Day itself.