Search

Graphic Novelty²

Tag

A Parchment of Leaves

Appalachian Trilogy by Silas House

Silas House is my favorite modern author, known for writing authentic and beautiful fiction about contemporary Appalachia. I read his novel Clay’s Quilt years ago, but had not realized afterward he wrote two more prequel books about Clay’s family until I picked up A Parchment of Leaves and realized he was writing about the ancestors of Clay. I then read The Coal Tattoo which depicts Clay’s mother’s life, and finally re-read Clay’s Quilt once again.

A Parchment of Leaves (2002)

Set in the early 1900s in eastern Kentucky, Saul is a young man who falls in love with a Cherokee woman, whose family lives in a small settlement nearby. They marry and have a daughter named Birdie, but problems arise when Saul’s brother Aaron also falls in love with Vine. The extended family endures poverty and discrimination in their rural life, but ultimately the bonds of family and friendship strengthen them. The story also highlights a love of nature and shows a changing way of life in the mountains as logging companies move in.

I loved this book and it proved to be my favorite of the trilogy. As I am already a fan of Appalachian fiction, I was then doubly pleased to find a reference to people of Melungeon descent in this story. As someone who suspects this ancestry in her family (not proven yet-as records back then were non-existent or hidden), I was interested in reading about Cherokee and Melungeon culture and how people were treated because of it. The book was heartbreaking to see families hide their language and customs, and have the next generation not know of their past. This book was so true to life; I could imagine Vine, Aaron, Serena, Saul, Esme and Aidia, and see them in my mind’s eye. 

The Coal Tattoo (2004)

This book was a sore disappointment to me after reading A Parchment of Leaves and loving the character of Vine so much.

I was not happy about Vine’s painful death and the regrets she had, and then how her daughter Birdie died, but the flashbacks to her friendship with Serena were wonderful. Her grandchildren Easter, Anneth and Gabe were not worthy of Vine; with Anneth especially rubbing me the wrong way. I wanted more of Gabe in the story, while poor Easter could never relax because she was always so rigid. Yet, the chapters about her son being stillborn and her crisis of faith were heartbreaking. I was pleased that she had a happy marriage to El and the chapter about having a ‘small life’ was well written about how some people are happy with their small town/rural life and don’t need more to be happy. Anneth was truly unlikable to me, her wild and foolish behavior set my teeth on edge. I didn’t buy her love affair with the soldier and her falling in love and getting pregnant during a weekend with him. The ending of the story was rather abrupt but will conclude with Clay’s Quilt (although this trilogy was written with the last book chronologically written first).

Clay’s Quilt (2001)

Clay’s Quilt is an evocative and lyrical book about Clay Sizemore, a young man tied to his family and community in Kentucky, and how he finds his place in life. Orphaned as a young boy, Clay is raised by his pious aunt and hard-drinking uncle and is blessed with many cousins. He is especially close to his cousin Dreama and his best friend Cake. After high school, he willingly works in a local coal mine, and parties every weekend with Cake. For years a lot of drinking, smoking marijuana and dancing were part of their lives, but he feels stuck in a rut when he meets Alma, a fiddler who is getting divorced from her abusive husband. The two fall in love, but a deadly fight with Alma’s ex gives him a crisis of faith that he needs to work through. The ending is a love letter to his region and kin, and this debut novel by House ended up being the last of a three-book series that House wrote about the Sizemore family.

On a side note, when does contemporary writing become historical fiction? Published in 2001, the story takes place from the 1970s through the 90s, although much of it feels timeless, as technology with computers and cell phones was not part of the narrative. The opioid epidemic had not hit the area yet and coal mining was still a viable job, so the story feels like a puzzle piece bridging the past and modern life now. I applaud the author for bringing the fictional Sizemore family to life and showcasing his beloved Kentucky. Many Appalachian books are set in the past, so this book was a breath of fresh air about being proud of your heritage- for he brought to life the beauty of the mountains, plus he showed respect to working-class and rural families of a region that is often overlooked or even looked down upon. I highly recommend the entire three-book series!

Top 5 Wednesday: Books From Before I Started Blogging

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, and this week the prompt is about your favorite books from before you joined the online book community. This also gives me a chance to feature books from other genres besides graphic novels!

Roots by Alex Haley: I have read this book several times over, and every time I am struck by the powerful narrative. The character of Kunta Kinte, an African teen captured and sold into slavery in America, put a personal face to the evils of the slavery trade. That he remained defiant and proud of his heritage, showed readers that they too could be proud of their ancestors, and I loved how his family retained some fragments of his past. I was fascinated by the history and the generations of change that Alex Haley described, and he encouraged me and countless others to do our own family research. While Haley’s research has been questioned as to it’s accuracy, this book still remains one of the finest examples of historical fiction. Kunta Kinte and his descendants became real to me, no matter if they truly existed or not.

To me, this book will always be entwined with the outstanding mini series Roots. It was my first introduction to LeVar Burton, and add in his work with Reading Rainbow and Star Trek TNG, and he shall always remain the celebrity I most want to meet.

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara: Best book I had read in years (as of 2013). Fascinating read of how doctor/scientist Norton Perina justifies everything he does and you see how his twisted soul affects his logic. So many interesting characters: Norton, Tallent, Esme, Owen, Fa’a, Kubodera- I can imagine all of them as fully fleshed out people. Loved how the book combined history, science, academics, & memoir into one great story. Questions at the end for readers…when does the balance tip for a person? Do the failings erase the earlier success? Did the end justify the means?

The Wedding by Dorothy West: This beautiful and timeless novel was written by Dorothy West, one of the last surviving writers of the Harlem Renaissance. The story takes place in Martha’s Vineyard in 1953, as Shelby a young woman of an upper class black family, is preparing to wed Meade a white jazz musician. There are misgivings among the couple and the extended family whether this mixed marriage will be successful, and through effective use of flashback we learn about Shelby’s family and the dynamics that have shaped them.

We learn how Shelby’s white great grandmother came to marry her black husband soon after the Civil War, and how Gram’s unresolved feelings of prejudice and self hate affected the family in future generations. The next two generations of marriages were not based on love either, but on class and skin color, resulting in toxic relationships that put a fake successful face towards society. Shelby’s sister Liz experiences reverse discrimination when she weds a man darker than her family, and Shelby is not sure what to do when Lute, a black man, questions her reasons for marrying Meade. Shelby has to face her decisions, and look within herself, so she can make a love match based on character instead of class.

This was a thought provoking novel that I have read several times, and plan to read again. The universal themes of class and prejudice, and historical race relations were fascinating and would be perfect for book club discussions.

My Old True Love by Sheila Kay Adams: One of the most beautiful novels I have ever read- the reader is transported to North Carolina in the mid to late 1800s to a rural community deep in the mountains of Appalachia. We meet Arty, as real a person as I’ve ever met, who shares her joys and struggles from her teen years onward. Arty marries well and raises a large family on a struggling farm, but the Civil War and heartbreak touch her and her surrounding community. Family connections and music play an integral part in the story, and the author makes you feel as though you are on the front porch with Arty and her family listening to her sing beautiful traditional ballads. This story would be perfect for book clubs, and is an absolute favorite of mine.

A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House: I loved this book. As I am already a fan of Appalachian fiction, I was then doubly pleased to find a reference to people of Melungeon descent in this story. As someone who suspects this ancestry in her family (not proven yet-as records back then were non-existent or hidden), I was interested in reading about Cherokee and Melungeon culture and how people were treated because of it. The book was heartbreaking to see families hide their language and customs, and have the next generation not know of their past. This was a book that was so true to life; that I could imagine Vine, Aaron, Serena, Saul, Esme and Aidia, and see them in my mind’s eye. I would love to read more about Vine and her family, and will definitely read more books written by Silas House.

I hope you get the chance read any of these five novels, for they are timeless classics that can be read over and over again!

-Nancy

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑