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Interview with Gail Godwin about Grief Cottage

Started by Rob Neufeld in AC-T Book Reviews Aug 3, 2017.

Ellington in Asheville--a survey

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History Oct 6, 2017.

Dave Minneman, heroic portrait

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In 1945 Indiana prohibited marriage between a white person and anyone with more than one-eighth "Negro blood." Yet Daniel (black) and Anna (white) gave up family, friends, and eventually even country to create a life together. Their 42-year marriage…
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Nancy Werking Poling replied to Rob Neufeld's discussion Bent Creek, the 4-part story
"Rob, Thanks for putting this into one document. I've been following the narrative in the Citizen-Times. I find it an added resource for my next writing project. In 1910 my husband's grandfather (1866-1947) showed up in Missouri and said…"
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Lee Ann Brown replied to Rob Neufeld's discussion Writer Olive Dargan rises from obscurity
"Great Article!  Heart wrenching about her destroyed manuscripts and letters and notes but I will look for more of Olive Dargan!     Lee Ann Brown"
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THE BANG BANG BROKERS HITS AMAZON PRIME WITH A BANG

Focusing on the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis, The Bang Bang Brokers tells the story of a hedge fund manager (based on a composite of real life traders) who got rich off of predicting the subprime fallout. His guilt and suicidal impulses lead him to a chance meeting with a Latino Gang, headed by small time weed dealer Ramon (Erik Michael Estrada). In hopes that Ramon will kill him in exchange for the favor, Rolley (played by Donihue) robs a rival Black Gang, earning the pair a ton of…See More
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First speculators of WNC

Zachariah Candler and Waightstill Avery were first land-buyersby Rob Neufeld             “In mid-2010, while compiling the descendant chart for the Zachariah Candler family,” Charles Haller writes in “Pushing the Indians Out,” his book about first developers, “I became interested in Zachariah’s obsession with accumulating land grants issued by the State of North Carolina.”            Zachariah was one of the resident landowners who jumped on the big post-Revolutionary War land sale.            …See More
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Lil Dee aka @Rapmonster Has A Message For Church Hoes And It’s Nothing Nice

Click to Listen: Church Hoeshttp://bit.ly/2u6MgbnLil Dee Has A Message for Church Hoes and it’s Nothing NiceKnown for pushing the envelope with his confrontational lyrical offerings, Lil Dee releases his latest single Church Hoes. The title inspires avariety of images ofwhat one may expect to hear in a…See More
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Kristin Hannah at UNCA February 16

Best-selling “Nightingale” author comes with new saga Rave“I’m thrilled to put into your hands the most honest exploration of both human frailty and resilience that I have ever read,” St. Martin’s Executive V-P and Publisher, Jennifer Enderlin says about Kristin Hannah’s novel, “The Great Alone.”  The publisher is betting the bank on this one. What aboutHannah writes evocative woman’s sagas, and her previous novel, “The Nightingale,” about two sisters surviving Nazi-occupied France, was No. 4…See More
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Interview with Gail Godwin about Grief Cottage

Gail Godwin’s latest crosses a mental boundary by Rob Neufeld Asheville author Gail Godwin, now a Woodstock, NY resident, comes back home here Wed., June 14 to present her new novel, “Grief Cottage” at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m. “Grief Cottage” is the story of an orphaned, sensitive, troubled boy, named…See More
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Senehi’s novel is full of local apple knowledge

by Rob Neufeld

           

            “We’re living in the last days of the Southern apple,” Belle McKenzie, the heroine in Rose Senehi’s new novel, “Carolina Belle” (K.I.M. Publishing), exclaims.  “Maybe ninety percent are now extinct.”

            Following Belle’s business passion—an orchard revival movement—alongside her romantic problems and suspenseful probings provides a long overdue treatment of Western North Carolina apple history in fiction.

            To give Belle legitimacy, Senehi connects her, through her mother’s father, “Pap” McGrady, to the region’s Johnny Appleseed, William Mills, a Tory commander at the Battle of Kings Mountain.

            There are a lot of legends associated with Mills in local history.  The one of him being the father of the Henderson County apple industry is one of the false ones, according to Jennie Jones Giles on her “Henderson Heritage” website.  Mills, a land speculator, had been one of many farmers in the Mills River area who’d grown apple trees.  And then, the industry didn’t take off until the 1920s here.

            But that matters little to Senehi’s novel, which places Belle (born, Annabelle) within a proven romance tradition.

            She’s a member of a kind of aristocracy—one that literally gets its hands dirty—as well as a modern version of the headstrong Regency heroine.

            One of my favorite business-plus-romance moments in the novel is when, in April, Belle checks on one of her orchards and drinks in the pollination scene.  “The energy of the orgy going on all about her took hold of Belle,” Senehi writes, “and awakened the yearning she was feeling more and more these days, a yearning for Matt.”

            You can see how the yearning gets into the language.  Senehi doesn’t write, “awakened the yearning she was feeling for Matt.”  She keens, “more and more these days”; and she repeats the word, “yearning” for effect.

            On the other hand, Belle can think, and Senehi write, like this: “She sliced the apple in two at the equator, exposing a swirl of dark seeds, then pulled a spray bottle with an iodine mixture from the basket.”

            Senehi’s research into her subject includes working six months in an experimental orchard.  “Carolina Belle” (the name of the variety Belle is trying to engender) is Senehi’s eighth novel, and continues to show that research is one of Senehi’s hallmarks.

 

Suspenseful plot

 

            When it comes to plotting, Senehi is expert.  She gets enough going to make sure the suspense is complex, and the dramatic resolutions multiple.

            Matt—a guy with tight abs for whom Belle yearns—had broken disastrously with Belle in their college-age days, and their misdeeds put a double-edged wedge between them.  But they are also business partners, for Matt works for Pap, who treats Matt like a son.

            Into this charged scenario walks Ken Larsen, a gorgeous man with blue eyes and a stubble beard who’s buying up orchards to start a cidery.

            Pap oversees the drama, as does his elderly neighbor, Jake, a gentle-hearted preserver of heirloom apples.  Jake’s son had been involved in a car accident that had killed Pap’s daughter.

            Yet despite Pap’s coldness toward him, Jake finds solace in Belle, whose mentor he becomes.  Into Jake’s character, Senehi pours her spiritual ideal.  Belle calls Jake an “everyman in (a) non-descript outfit.”

            “Most of us are born, live and die as ordinary people, with little to distinguish us from the millions around us,” Jake says.  “Only occasionally does a human rise above the crowd by mental genius or exceptional ability…This goes for apples, too.”

            Jake’s character works.  So does that of his brother, the practiced lawyer.  Belle’s character often works, and she provides funny and touching moments.  I have to say, though, Matt’s character is in ways ridiculous.  He reminds me at times of Calvin reacting to Susie Derkins in “Calvin and Hobbes.”

 

Depth soundings

 

            People can want two different things in a novel: a vehicle for entertainment and information; or an experience that puts you in touch with existential depths.

            What’s a good sign of existential depth?  One of the key ones, I think, is a narrative that feels like dream reality, without nonsensical dream-world logic.

            For instance, this is what a key moment feels like in “Carolina Belle”:

            Belle, Pap, Matt, and Matt’s step-father, Raphael, are about to face their first hazard—a hailstorm just before picking time—and Belle goes into high gear, remarking on fate.

            “Jagged marble-sized orbs bounced on the ground,” Senehi writes.  “As the hail piled up, a sickening feeling overcame (Belle), like she was sinking in quicksand and about to smother.  Then someone whispered in the marauder’s ear that the damage was finally done, and the pelting turned into a gentle rain and stopped.”

            Senehi’s narration must race forward.  The colorful prose is a concession to Belle’s thought process.  If the novel were to be more dreamlike—that is, more mental—the narration would occur in the time of the remembering, and there would be a lot more going on in the expanded impression of the intense experience.

            “Please God,” Belle prays, “don’t let anything happen to this crop.  Pap’s got too much riding on it.” 

            Do you want to know the things that Pap associates with loss and spoilage?  Senehi will connect you with one big tragedy.  But Pap doesn’t unconsciously try to connect resonant experiences in his life in order to see a pattern; he’s not haunted; and nothing seriously odd and inexplicable happens.

            Instead, Pap is a type, a stoic, hard-working, master orchardist who shows that he can loosen his guard a little in the end.  These kinds of developments are always fulfilling when done well, as Senehi demonstrates.

 

Rob Neufeld writes the weekly book feature for the Sunday Citizen-Times.  He is the author and editor of six books, and the publisher of the website, “The Read on WNC.”   He can be reached at RNeufeld@charter.net and 505-1973.  Follow him @WNC_chronicler.

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