Sacred Sites for Secular Times: 50 Commemorative Experiences in Western North Carolina by Rob Neufeld Among the many sites dedicated to history, there are some—both overbooked and overlooked—that provide full and moving experiences. They involve a physical component, connecting to landscape; an imaginative one, entering other times and minds; and an interactive one, maintaining relevance. The entries in this book help create full experiences through descriptive…See More
In honor of my blog Plant Whatever Brings You Joy's 10th Blogiversary I've posted a chapter from my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden. This particular chapter was also excerpted in Fairview's GreenPrints magazine, which was greatly appreciated. Read more here: http://plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com/aim-for-beauty/…See More
McCrumb sees stories behind haunting ghost by Rob NeufeldPHOTO: Sharyn McCrumb and her dog Arthur, 2017. Photo by Laura Palmer, courtesy, Sharyn McCrumb In “The Unquiet Grave,” Sharyn McCrumb once again demonstrates her mastery at turning a folktale into something larger, different, and greater.The legend of the…See More
HISTORIC PHOTO James Vester Miller James Vester Miller had been a boy when his mother, a Rutherfordton slave, had responded to Emancipation by taking her three children to Asheville and getting a job as a cook in a boardinghouse—some say Julia Wolfe’s boardinghouse, Old Kentucky Home. Growing up, Miller hung…See More
Dave Minneman and a sense of justiceby Rob NeufeldPHOTO CAPTION: Dave Minneman doing research at Pack Memorial Library. Photo by author. “One of the biggest things I did as a kid, in order to escape my father,” Asheville resident Dave Minneman says of his 1960s and 70s rural Indiana childhood, “was…See More
Meet the 4th generation miller of a historic millby Rob NeufeldPHOTO CAPTION: Triptych of Dellinger Mill and Jack Dellinger in his mill, showing the hopper, the 1859 waterwheel, bags of cornmeal, and the National Historic Place plaque. Photos and composition by Henry Neufeld. I had written about…See More
On October 1, Sunday afternoon, 2 PM, at Jackson County Library in the Community Room, NCWN and NCWN-West will honor the late Poet Laureate, Kathryn S. Byer . Everyone is invited to come. We will share her poetry and talk about her achievements and her legacy for writers and poets in NC. If Kay touched your life in some way, come and pay tribute to her. We all miss her and this is a way to share our mourning for losing her and show our appreciation for what she did for us. See More
"On Saturday, September 9, 10:30 a.m., Richard Kraweic will teach a class at Writers Circle. He will teach how to organize a poetry book for publication. I know I need to learn that lesson. How about you?"
A meaningful tour of East Asheville PHOTO CAPTION: View of Beverly Hills suburb, from a painting by Gibson Catlett that had once hung at subdivision offices. Courtesy Special Collection, Ramsey Library, UNC Asheville. I was walking in the Beverly Hills neighborhood the other day and noticed a few…See More
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
Okay, I am a little over half-way through The Missing, and I don't want to finish it. this wonderful book is filled with sounds - music, river boat whistles and the awesome spectacle of over a thousand people dancing in the moonlight on the deck of a riverboat. Without a doubt, this book's greatest merit (and it has a bunch!) is atmosphere. From the battlefields of WWI to the sights, sounds and smells of a 1920's department store, you are there. With painstaking care,Tim Gautreaux gets it all right - the clothes, automobiles, the music and the lush (and still dangerous) wilderness of rural Mississippi.
All of this and a marvelous plot (and several sub-plots! ) The Missing has a kidnapped child; Sam, the guilt-ridden floorwalker in the department store who feels that his negligence of his responsibilities brought about the kidnapping; the tormented parents (who are musicians on a Mississippi riverboat), a bestial "hillbilly" family who orchestrated the kidnapping, dangerous dogs...oh, and the savage slaughter of Sam's family some twenty-six years ago - a crime that also demands justice from Sam, the ex-floorwalker - all of this packed in a novel that fairly pulses with energy,suspense and riverboat jazz. I need to go finish this book..........
I enjoyed this book very much also, and it's interesting how much you can love a book and, at the same time, be disappointed by one aspect of it. It's no small criticism that Gautreaux's philosophy drives the plot--and I like his philosophy. Novels that begin to have lives of their own, separate from the author's wishes, are the most exciting. As thrilling and colorful as The Missing is, I predicted every major development.
Except for one, but that's another topic.
Right now, I'd like to talk about two of the many things to appreciate in The Missing--the language and the storytelling. A man wrote me wondering why book reviewers didn't talk about language more. Yikes, he's right. Everyone loves language.
So here goes. Also, it's fun to point out passages in books that are our favorites.
Gautreaux knows exactly what he's doing. There are sentences in the novel that explain his method. One is in the first chapter. The hero, Sam Simoneaux, has just spent his first few days in Argonne, France, cleaning up unexploded armaments just after the end of World War I. A conversation with a hometown soldier causes him to think of experiences back home. Gautreaux writes: "The details of stories he'd heard whispered around him since infancy formed a whole mural in his mind."
Gautreaux then launches into an amazing tale that is re-tellable. It serves as an example of the legacy of "stories whispered" that create "a mural." I'd like to talk about Gautreaux's story-telling style, which includes a distinctive use of language. Next time. Now I'm gonna sit back a little.
Although I have reviewed this book for the Smoky Mountain News, I think I would like to talk about another aspect of The Missing that I didn't discuss in the review. Novelists are frequently called "storytellers" without justification since I feel that the term denotes a special quality that some novelists share with oral storytellers. Gautreaux has that marvelous talent, and like Scheherazade, one story engenders another. the story of a wounded child in an abandoned village in France presages another child...one that is kidnapped from a department store in New Orleans. Both of these endangered children share a special bond with their rescuer, Lucky, who was also a child snatched from almost certain death by his doomed father. For me, all of these abandoned children have much in common with those prototypes in fairy tales...Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, the Ugly Duckling - all fragile vessels who are saved by a vigilant guardian. I also feel that, like The Arabian Nights Gautreaux' tale has a "never-ending" quality...especially since The Missing has a "circular" construction, ending up where it begun.
I'm sure that critics can (with justification) find flaws in The Missing such as those instances in which the novel's suspenseful plot progresses by asking the reader to "willingly suspend disbelief" regarding the credibility of Lucky's motivation. For example, his decision to accept employment on a riverboat in the hope of finding the kidnappers (who probably saw this child sing and dance with her parents at one of the riverboat stops). Yeah, that is a stretch, but I came to feel that Gautreaux' plot, like the derelict riverboat on which much of the action takes place, could collapse with a bit of rude prodding in its weak spots; but given a bit of indulgence, it not only floats, it begins to emit a magical mix of music, moonlight and excitement.
Gary, could you quote a passage that exemplifies what you're talking about it? I have some I'd like to post to illustrate the novel's richness, which represents storytelling at its best. It will be fun to collect such examples from different books.
The plot flaws that I'm talking about don't have to do with just implausibilities. They have to do with much more significant things--in fact, things that show that, while passages may exhibit great natural storytelling, over all, the book is just the opposite--something very tightly constructed.
Gautreaux has his characters speak the philosophies that guide the plot.
Regarding the people who killed Sam's family, Uncle Claude says, "Sin is its own punishment...What they did is who they are. It makes them cripples." And, sure enough, when Sam finally catches up with the evil Cloats, they have all died or are dying of some kind of rot--literally in some cases--syphilis. Oh, we wish evil people died of their own sin! Does anybody have stories to confirm or contradict this world view? Do bad guys get just desserts?
(I have a few other examples of major plot manipulation. I'm not just picking on one thing.)
Then there is the thematic construction. Because Gautreaux's big theme has to do with the "fall from childhood" that all people experience, every time you meet a new character, he or she volunteers a story along these lines. I'm fine with the major examples: the French girl in Argonnes; Sam's own childhood; the loss of his first son to fever; and, of course, the missing girl. But it isn't an organic story when every character--the kidnappers' employers' cook; the boat engineers; the employees at the bank where Sam works for a short while; etc.--lines up.
Then there's the issue of character development. Sam is the victim of major traumas, and Gautreaux represents his psychology well. Halfway through the book, Sam begins to falter in alarming ways, freezing when he should act. This was very exciting to me as a reader. But then, the healing that Sam does is based on mostly symbolic occurrences--nowhere near enough suffering or struggle to mark his transformation. His final confrontation with the Cloats is unsatisfying, and even a little ridiculous, I think.
I think Gautreaux should follow Gary's lead. Scheherazade didn't need to come full circle or show character transformation. She just told great stories. Gautreaux is a fantastic storyteller. He needs to leave his tough guy sentimental philosophy out of the mix.
Well, I do agree that there is something disturbing about Lucky's inability to "take action." He is like a form of conscientious objector who, for some reason, can't physically act. Does he have moral qualms about it? He interferes reluctantly. Yet, he acts on the steamboat where he is a kind of bouncer, subduing trouble-makers, disarming drunks, breaking up fights.....but in the issues that touch him personally, he freezes. (He also makes a lousy bank guard.) He is a "watcher" or observer. When it comes time for him to avenge the massacre of his family, he finally seems primed, but then action becomes irrelevant since the Cloats are in the act of dying anyway. I don't know that I found him lacking in courage, but he does seem to imitate Hamlet since he "loses the name of action." He frequently has to be goaded or shamed into doing what needs to be done as exemplified by his badgering friend on the steamboat and his wife who is angry by his inability to "do the right thing."
I have trouble quoting passages from the book since I read The Missing on my Kindle ....which illustrates another reason to stick with "real books."
P. S. As for becoming enthralled by Gautreaux' "romanticism" (and Cormac McCarthy's, as well!), I plead guilty. I'm not sure what "romanaticism" means in this context, but when the topic touches on Cormac McCarthy, I lose all rational perception and admit to being a fanatical (and unquestioning) disciple.