Tag Archives: North Carolina author

Hieroglyphics, by Jill McCorkle

Frank and Lil are getting up in years, and their daughter, Becca, thought it best that they move from snowy Massachusetts closer to her home in North Carolina. Lil had kept journals and other records of her entire life, and after the move, she sifted through them, reliving joys and sorrows. Lil’s mother had died in a nightclub fire, and Lil had been inspired to continue her mother’s dream of dancing and teaching little ballerinas. Frank, on the other hand, had lost his father in a train accident, and when they moved to North Carolina, they were back where Frank grew up in his stepfather’s home, right near the scene of the accident. He is often drawn to the tracks, searching for the artifacts that are still being discovered after all these decades.

Shelley lives with her son, Harvey, in the house where Frank grew up. Frank came to the door one day and asked to see inside, explaining his interest to a hesitant Shelley. Even though Lil waved from the car, Shelley was afraid to let them know that she was alone with her child. She didn’t want to admit—even to herself—that Brent might never come back. Harvey is filled with nightmarish fears, perhaps from all of the stories that his older brother had told him, or perhaps something more. He sees dark figures moving through the house at night, and although Shelley tries to comfort him, she sees them, too.

My friend, Janet, suggested Hieroglyphics as a group read, and this novel offers rich ground for discussion. It is told through all four viewpoints, including young Harvey’s, and each person has a distinctive voice. Although, as Janet told us, this book is darker than most of McCorkle’s work, her writing is thoroughly accessible, and the pages fly by. For those of you who are McCorkle fans, part of Shelley’s story ties in to an earlier novel. She is such a skillful writer that I expected a completely different ending right up until the last page.

One theme that came up during our group session concerned how some people’s lives will be forever changed by one pivotal event, while others can break free from the past and move forward. This novel is nostalgic to the point of being haunting, and all of the threads of the tangled plot resolve suddenly at the end—except one. Another novel, perhaps?

This engrossing story may be best for readers over 40 or so, and it makes a great pick for book discussion groups.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Serena, by Ron Rash

Serena“Just remember you were warned,” said his Boston hostess before she introduced Pemberton to Serena. Despite her words, he was instantly smitten. Serena was the strongest woman he had ever known, and she was eager to join him in western North Carolina, leaving the sophistication of Boston society for the rugged life of a mountain logging operation.

Her father had been a lumber baron in Colorado, so Serena had grown up on horseback and could handle everything to do with the business as well as any grizzled old hand in the camp. She trained an eagle to take care of the snake problem, and the men grew accustomed to seeing her upright form riding the mountainside with the huge bird perched on her arm. When Pemberton was confronted by the father of a young woman who was carrying his child, he dispatched him neatly with a knife blade quite openly on the train platform. Serena approved, and from that point, the pair of them continued to remove any obstacles that got in the way of their plan to denude the entire mountainside, then the entire state, and eventually, the entire country of Brazil.

I recently decided to get better acquainted with contemporary Southern—and especially North Carolina—authors, since William, Flannery, Eudora, Walker and I are old friends. Ron Rash is new to me, even though he is a well-known resident of our state. The first two pages of this novel are brutal, and both Pemberton and Serena are repugnant. Since I am a character-driven reader, it was tough to get past this shocking opening scene. Also, as a rural resident, I am happily surrounded by green woodlands, so when the protagonists view a beautiful poplar as just so many board feet, it is nauseating, just as the author intended. However, there are some heroes to be found, and the pace of the plot and the reader’s increasing desperation to find someone to stop this woman keep the pages turning. There is certainly not a moment of boredom, and last third of the book runs at breakneck speed. Even the secondary characters are often compelling and sometimes reminded me of the cast of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Rash’s use of one logging crew as a sort of Appalachian Greek chorus provided a bit of comic relief.

As a North Carolinian, it was mind-bending to read about the Biltmore House as an actual residence, not the museum that we know today. I had no idea that logging companies were racing to clear-cut our beautiful Smoky Mountains before the federal government could establish national forests. Conservation and unchecked greed are the larger themes here, but readers will never forget Serena, one of the most evil women ever to dwell on the printed page. A contemporary classic.

Disclaimer: I read a colleague’s (signed!) copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Returned, by Jason Mott

ImageImagine if that person you loved so dearly who died years ago suddenly showed up on your doorstep, looking just exactly as they did when they were alive and well. Imagine if that started happening all over the world, day after day.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave were an elderly couple living in the small town of Arcadia, North Carolina. Since their only child, Jacob, had drowned on his eighth birthday decades ago, Harold and Lucille’s relationship had become a sharp pebble in a shoe: it was painful, but they just kept walking. Harold constantly battled his desire for cigarettes while he complained about everything, especially anything important to Lucille. She kept her world together by improving her vocabulary—much to Harold’s derision—and maintaining a prim exterior. She clung to a type of small-town religion, fiercely championing her own opinions by prefacing them with “the Bible says….” When Agent Martin Bellamy knocks on the door with little Jacob beside him, this fossilized couple is thrust back into the role of being the parents of a young boy.

It’s happening everywhere. A Japanese man runs into a convenience store, screaming “I surrender!” No one knows what he’s surrendering for. A famous French artist comes back to life, but has no interest in enjoying his posthumous fame, only in worshipping the woman he loved, who is now well past caring. Others wait for their beloved dead, but they never appear. There are so many of the Returned. Are they really human? Where can we house them all? Should they be allowed to mix with the True Living?

In the Author’s Note, debut North Carolina author Jason Mott reveals that part of his reason for writing The Returned was to allow himself another chance to live through his own mother’s death, to try to love her more worthily this time. He walks through his own novel as one of the characters, and the reader can watch his heartfelt desire for closure. Both a fascinating study of human nature and a deeply personal journey, The Returned uses fantastical catastrophes to reveal the sometimes surprising depths of the human soul.

The Returned will be released on August 27, 2013.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader’s copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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