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Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Salman Rushdie come to Asheville with new novel

Atheist believes in genies, novel revealsby Rob Neufeld             Salman Rushdie’s latest novel—“Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” (1,001 nights)—has permitted me to come up with a headline as wild as the one above because the book is so exuberantly and infectiously…See More
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Jan 31
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

73 classic works about Appalachia going online

Key Appalachian studies publications now going onlinefrom press release, Jan. 27. 2016 Appalachian studies scholars and those interested in regional history will have greater access to out-of-print works thanks to a two-year National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Open Book Program grant totaling $88,000 awarded to Belk Library and Information Commons at Appalachian State University.  Pamela Mitchem, the library’s coordinator of digital scholarship and…See More
Jan 30
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

John Parris' home-grown prose

South of Sylva, back of yesterday: John Parris' inspiration             “For the life of me, I just can’t understand why folks stopped usin’ cradles,” John Parris’ 97-year-old maternal grandfather had told him 60 years ago.            The oil lamp, the buggy, and the spinning wheel—they all were replaced by things…See More
Jan 27
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

James Sturm expands scope of graphic novels

James Sturm blazes cartoon path to a new worldby Rob Neufeld             Why is it that when an author combines pictures with words, the medium is considered juvenile, like comics?  Words create literature; images, art.  Why, when you marry them, is it like pairing a milk cow with a mop?            Nothing against…See More
Jan 24
susannah eanes posted a blog post

The Writer as Pilgrim

Two articles leapt at my consciousness this week, both about writing. And suddenly, I know how to go forward from here. The first, The Price I Pay to Write, by Laura Bogart and published online in Dame Magazine, reflects on the difficulties of…See More
Jan 24
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Tired of thrillers with no soul?

Why read a 1940 man-on-the-run classicby Rob Neufeld             After reading a classic novel, you might think, “Oh, look at this superior ancestor of today’s fiction.”              For instance, “The Power and the Glory,” Graham Greene’s 1940 thriller about political oppression in Mexico, exemplifies the…See More
Jan 17
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Jan 9
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Art of Grace by Sarah Kaufman

Dance critic applies grace to every moveby Rob Neufeld             It’s nice to find just the right word for something, especially when it sums up a main idea in your way of thinking.            That was the case with Sarah Kaufman when she’d first felt moved, nine years ago, to write her new book, “The Art of Grace” (W.W.…See More
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Fire and Ice Roses interview with author/gardening blogger Kathryn Hall

Fire and Ice Roses has been interviewing gardening bloggers and gardening experts and were kind enough to include this short interview recently which was quite fun and very much appreciated! http://fireandiceroses.com/ask-an-expert-kathryn-hall/See More
Jan 5
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

History in the making, January 2, 2016

History in the making: items of note, January 2, 2016It was reported in today’s print edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times that a new state law went into effect, requiring people who’ve filed for unemployment benefits to make at least 5 job contacts a week.  It had been 2.  How will that work?  Are there that many jobs for which a person is qualified?  Can you apply to the same job twice if it continues to be listed? Paul Bonesteel, noted Asheville filmmaker, revealed on Facebook that a…See More
Jan 2
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Local event of the day, Jan 1 2016

Tarantino, eminent domain, and emancipation Tarantino comes to townQuentin Tarantino’s New Year’s gore and gabfest, The Hateful Eight, is gutted by New Yorker reviewer Anthony Lane, who says that Tarantino toys with rather than explores history, using it “for boyish fantasies of revenge, as if enormous crimes could be undone, after the event, by lone and wanton acts of humiliation.” …See More
Jan 1
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Railroad history in Western North Carolina: a close-up and bottom-line look

Railroads in WNC: the perils, the people, and the profitby Rob NeufeldWritten in conjunction with exhibit, "How The West Was Won," in Rural Heritage Museum, Mars Hill University PHOTO CAPTION: The entrance to the railroad show at the Rural Heritage Museum is commanded by a mock-up of Climax engine…See More
Dec 24, 2015

Horror and home call in Fairview novel

by Rob Neufeld

 

            In the midst of multiple life-changing events, Karen Godwell abandons Manhattan to return home to Hickory Nut Gap in Rose Senehi’s sixth novel, “Render unto the Valley.”

            Karen’s brother, Travis, has just defrauded their grandmother of the family farm.  And Karen’s husband, Joel, has just died of cancer. 

            After 15 years, she realizes that she may not be cut out to be Curator of Special Exhibitions in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Folk Art Center director job in Asheville is open, and she takes a big cut in salary to make the move.

            With her is her ten-year-old daughter, Hali, who’d been mentored by her free-thinking father.  He’d asked her to make sure her mom was okay after he passed.  Plus, there’s a cat, named Bonnie.

 

Home to horror

 

            Back home, Karen quickly meets up with her younger sister, Amy, a kennel operator; and with Travis, a panic-inducing wheeler-dealer with a hidden psychosis.

            We learn about the psychosis in the first chapter, dated February 1985, a flashback to Karen’s childhood involving a floosy mother and extreme poverty. 

            The kids had had to collect kindling for winter heat.  One day, Karen had roused Amy, prying Missy, Amy’s puppy, from her arms.  She “watched the poor little critter limp across the room on three legs.  Of all the hateful things Travis ever did, cutting off Missy’s leg was the meanest.”

            In a fiction-writing tradition that includes William Faulkner’s character, Cash, in “The Sound and the Fury,” the creepy family member has proven to be a great plot device.  Senehi uses it in a thriller formula, and does a great job ramping up suspense.  The Travis story builds in creepiness and Senehi gets a lot out of it. 

What complicity did Karen share in protecting and enabling Travis as a child; and then skipping town to leave Amy with him?  And why did Amy, Karen asks herself about recent events, “allow Travis to stay alone in the house with Granny”?  What had gone on in the house when Travis had gotten Granny to sign over all her money and property to him?  Can Granny, now in a nursing home suffering from dementia, help?

            Other suspense elements pile on, including the trials of a beleaguered land conservation agency; and the romantic interests of its legal counsel, Tom Gibbons.  Senehi has no problem interweaving these story lines smartly.

            Filling a novel with an ambitious amount of melodramatic incident is one way of writing a good novel.  It’s a ship-in-a-storm type of vehicle.  Doing so, however, misses out on an aspect of realism—the degree to which lives are dominated by humdrum events and interpretations of their symbolism.

            For example, the part of Karen’s mind rooted to her profession—she’d been a workaholic in the top of her field for her adult life—gets short shrift.  And what about Bonnie, the cat?  There are pets all over this story.  Bonnie is a huge symbol as well as a companion.  In another novel, Hali, much less sure of herself, would be paying attention to her cat.

 

Local details

 

            Senehi offsets suspense with local preservation and history details, and delivers handsomely.

            “You remember the deal Jack Reece made for the Grassy Patch Mountain tract over in Lake Lure?” Tom Gibbons asks his director, Kevin.  Reece’s conservation agency had backed out of the sale and passed it to Kevin’s and Tom’s.

            It’s not hard to detect its real-life parallel in Weedy Patch Mountain.

            History comes up again when Karen’s cousin, Bruce, responds to Hali’s interest in medicine. “Back in the 1800s,” he says, “there used to be a woman who owned the Sherrill’s Inn property who doctored folks.  Her name was Ann Ashworth and they called her a witch” because of her use of herbs and formulas.

            Senehi has dedicated her book, “For Bruce Whitaker who has kept the history of Fairview.”

            There are many other local references in the novel.  Senehi provides an index to “places mentioned in this book” in an appendix. 

The geography seeps into personal lives, as when Tom takes further interest in Karen when he learns that she’d told Hali about the rare species of salamander that resides on Karen’s family’s land.

            As in a “Mission: Impossible” movie, Senehi pulls some punches in “Render unto the Valley” in order to guide her plot toward a prescribed end; but even late in the novel, there are some intriguing surprises.

            Ignore the archaic title and glib first paragraph—the only place where you’ll find literary metaphors—and enjoy the ride.  Karen and her sister provide headstrong leadership; and Tom and Bruce, great commentary.

 

THE BOOK

Render unto the Valley by Rose Senehi (K.I.M. Publishing trade paper, Jan. 2012, 292 pages, $15.95).

 

MEET THE AUTHOR

Rose Senehi launches her novel, “Render unto the Valley,” 12 noon, Thurs., Jan. 19, at Lake Lure Inn, with lunch ($25 per person to benefit the Mountains Branch Library, call  

She also presents her book at:

  • Malaprop’s Bookstore, 55 Haywood St., Asheville, 3 p.m., Sat. Jan. 28 (254-6734).
  • Barnes & Noble, Tunnel Rd., Asheville, 1 to 4 p.m., Sun., Jan. 29.
  • Fountainhead Books, 408 N. Main St., Hendersonville, 6:30 p.m., Fri., Feb. 3 (697-1870).
  • Barnes & Noble, Town Square at Biltmore Park, Asheville, 1 to 4 p.m., Sun., Feb. 5.
  • Hendersonville Public Library, 301 N. Washington St., Hendersonville, 2 p.m., Wed., Feb. 8 (697-4725).

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