Morgan conjures the past with a poet skill

bookRobert Morgan has a rare and cunning gift: he can sift through the detritus of the past, pluck objects and images from his memory (especially his childhood) and elevate them to the point where they become — in the sense that Joseph Campbell uses the word — “numinous.”

A story of violence and race in small-town N.C.

bookMy decision to read this “docudrama” (part memoir, part history and part detective story) was prompted by my genuine wish to gain a better understanding of the history of racial conflicts and violent conformations that took place in North Carolina between the 1950s and the present.

Dobyns novel reveals small town underbelly

bookStephen Dobyns has written 20 novels and more than 10 volumes of poetry; however, he is difficult to “classify.” His writing is praised by big league names as varied as Francine Prose and Stephen King, but he is most famous for a “sexual harassment” charge brought against him while he was teaching at Syracuse University (allegedly, he was overheard making “salty and crude” comments at a party).

Tension-soaked novel is one of Appalachia’s best

bookMark Powell’s The Dark Corner is probably the best Appalachian novel that I have read in the last decade. It is also the most disturbing. In this, his third novel, Powell captures both the natural beauty of northwestern South Carolina and the seething violence and paranoia that lurks beneath the surface. This is a region where the interests of environmental groups, real estate developers, the federal government and right-wing extremists collide. The result is volatile and unstable, as homemade nitroglycerine.

Movies, book explore travails of Memphis Three

bookThey were known as the West Memphis Three: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., three teenagers who were accused of murdering three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas in 1993. Their trial was marked by tampered evidence, false testimony and public hysteria. It is small wonder that it became an event so bizarre, it attracted the national media.

The unforgettable life of Nancy Silver

bookRecently, when I was surfing through a depressing collection of nighttime TV programs — religious rants, psychics, cooking shows and weight loss commercials — I stopped on a “true crime” channel with a provocative title: “Dangerous Women.” Before I could punch the remote, a solemn voice announced: “Tonight, a horrifying story from a remote cove in Appalachia, we bring you the story of Frankie Silver, a woman who not only murdered her husband but burned his body in the fireplace.”

Rash’s Appalachia is both rich and flawed

bookRon Rash’s latest collection of short stories echos a theme that runs through all of his works: an awareness that Appalachia is in transition, that it is becoming something else. Of course, this is a quality that is shared by all things — what the poets call “mutability” — but in this instance, the author is mindful of what our world is becoming in contrast to what it once was. Like the drowned girl in his short story by the same title, Appalachia may be undergoing a “sea change” and will emerge as “something rich and strange.” The substance may be alien, repugnant and/or fascinating.

1967 novel sheds light on obscure mass drowning

bookIn recent years, I have become interested in an obscure incident that occurred in Jackson County in 1882 — the accidental drowning of 19 chain gang convicts who were working on Cowee Tunnel near Dillsboro. Who were they? Where did they come from? Where are they buried? The details are sketchy, and outside of a few basic facts, most of the stories have been passed down by oral tradition.

Zombie lore, one bite at a time

bookIf you are literate and moderately aware of what passes for entertainment in film, popular novels and comics, then you are acquainted with of the strange “zombie” craze that is currently dominating much of the popular arts. In recent years, the popularity of “The Walking Dead” has grown to epic proportions.

Historian presents a factual story of Cleopatra

book“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.”

— Cicero, 106 B.C.

Stacy Schiff, a Pulitzer prize-winning historian and a guest editorialist for the New York Times, has written a fascinating historical biography of one of “the most alluring and elusive women in recorded history” — Cleopatra VII.

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