Immerse yourselves in WNC’s best literature, 2013
by Rob Neufeld
See also national lists of best books of the year
The focus for this season’s pick-fest is on books by Western North Carolina authors who have struck out, this year, in new directions and harnessed powerful urges.
If you love books, you come to love authors, and follow them as if they are personal projects.
So, to begin:
All the promotion about this novel is how Smith, a much-loved and acclaimed author, has fictionalized Zelda Fitzgerald at Highland Hospital in Asheville. But the core of the novel is much larger, and more personal. Her son, Josh, had suffered with a schizophrenic disorder, resided at times at Highland Hospital, and died at age 33 of an enlarged heart. “Guests on Earth” pours Smith’s love into each maladapted character.
Every one of Godwin’s novels is a new experiment, though her seductively mindful writing style ties them all together. With “Flora,” she narrows her scene of action to an old house atop a hill in fictionalized Asheville, with characters quarantined during a 1945 polio scare. The themes reach down to house hauntings and out to Oak Ridge and the bomb, but the main theme harbors inside the young heroine’s heart as the transformation of her haughty personality comes with a shattering event. I have a working relationship with Godwin, but don’t take just my word for it; all four major pre-publication review journals gave this novel a starred review.
You had read it in this column a year ago: Roberts’ novel about a recovering drinker who manages the Mountain Park Hotel in Hot Springs during the internment of German WWI prisoners is a multi-layered marvel. It was his debut book. A half-year later, it won the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction; and a few months later, the N.C, Literary and Historical Association’s award for fiction.
Speaking of debuts, these two are particularly notable, aside from the fact that the first author is an Asheville resident; and the second sets her novel in Blowing Rock.
Mason’s meditativeness and irony raises the murder mystery to a noir nightmare rather than a game of shocks. The hero, Jason Getty, worries that a body he’d buried in his backyard will be detected (he’d killed a man in self-defense); and then landscapers summon him to check out two different bodies they’d unearthed in his yard. Mason’s empathy with the human condition frees her to deliver such lines as: “Jason’s voice box felt folded into an origami swan and it couldn’t be trusted to deliver more than a papery quack.”
“The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls” is a book for adults about 15-year-old girls, who are plenty complex. The heroine’s sexuality and maturity-limiting family past lead to secrets, stumbles, moments of glory, and hard-to-decipher alliances at a horse-riding school.
Here’s another novel with young adult characters that adults will savor. In this case, what’s called “adult material” (sex and vulgarity) is excluded, and the cover art is juvenile, but don’t let that fool you. Asheville resident and Great Smokies Writing Program director Hays provides a loving parental view of family troubles that invests the novel with felt weight.
Kingsolver is another author who’s always taking risks, revealing matters of social conscience within plots that she makes character-driven. And “Flight Behavior” is a great example, as our introduction to the heroine, Dellarobia Turnbow, makes us think she’s ditzy, until we see her claim herself within her husband’s family and within a world of science and wonder that expands our awareness of ecological issues. Bulletin to fiction purists: politics and opinions are parts of real people’s lives.
This is a no-brainer pick. Whenever you see the words “Ron Rash” and “short story” together, treasure it as you would a Sappho poem or a Mozart quartet.
Price, the Burnsville novelist with Clay County roots, turns to non-fiction to thoroughly explore serial murders that took place out west a century-and-a-half ago. It is not the usual history book or serial murder account; it is an attempt to understand how bad things happen through character insight and detective work.
The new novel by veteran, prolific writer, Madden, now of Black Mountain, is daring--recreating the society of medieval London, which he puts forward as being more amoral than we can imagine.
Byer's volume combines her rich, cadenced sound; family and personal experience; and demanding conscience, which, in this collection, probes racism in her Southern heritage.
Asheville author Neal’s second novel should be read as enthusiastically as Wiley Cash’s celebrated novel, “A Land More Kind than Home.” Swirling beneath his story about the loss of a Watauga County family farm are presentiments of various kinds of loss and movement toward survival.
The wonderful surprise here: Ellison, the noted nature and history writer, is a great poet.
This retrospective of the paintings of Marcus C. Thomas, a Weaverville painter who learned to create artworks with a mouth-held brush after a skiing accident had paralyzed him below the shoulders, is a joy on two levels: not just the arresting images, but also the story of spirit that shimmers in them, as well as in the narrative.
I’m sorry, Mindi—I’ve been meaning to read and review this for a few months—but couldn’t fit the 800-plus pages into my schedule.
I am a big fan of Meltz’s first novel, “Beauty,” an unusually successful rendering of an animal-way-of-mind. Her second novel follows a woman on an initiatory quest for life’s mysteries.
Readers, please log in your own reviews on “The Read on WNC.”