Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Review: "Bloodroot" by Amy Greene

I almost didn't read this book. According to the back flap, it deals with the same general themes as a novel I am working on: madness, genius, love, cruelty, the meaning of home. It is even set in a similar setting. I was afraid to read it for fear of having it bleed into my work. (I live in fear of plagiarizing, knowing how I inhabit stories that I'm reading and they become part of me. I fear that something I've read will come back in my writing in unintended, not to mention illegal, ways.)

I tried to put it down, but the voice of the opening narrator was so compelling, I kept right on reading, and I didn't stop when the second narrator took over the story. In fact, I read the whole book in one day. Not exactly in one sitting, because I had to come up for air a couple of times to compose myself: reading this book was a shattering experience. It was about a community being destroyed by the very people who would try to preserve the land. It is a story about simple people trying to cope with living in an increasingly complicated world. It asks the question what makes a home, and offers a variety of answers.

I thought it was better than Cold Mountain (and I loved Cold Mountain). The language is spot on, throughout. With six different narrators, both men and women of varying levels of intelligence and education, that is no small feat! Greene nails both the female and the male voices. I love to read (and write) stories told from the perspectives of several of the participants. In this story, each narrator tells the story from his or her perspective at different points in the time line. Thus, Greene gives the reader multiple points of view without lapsing into head-hopping. I admired everything about the way she accomplished that.
For me the only off-key note was one character who was a kind of a spiritual guru who just didn't fit into the book. I understand that he adds some ambiguity to the birthright of the twins and he adds to the mystery of the spirituality of the place, but his role is a little too coincidental and, I thought, almost unnecessary. He's kind of a deus ex machina in a story that most emphatically doesn't need one. That subtext rather annoyed me.
That's a small quibble. Overall, the writing is magnificent. The characters are unforgettable. The story is almost too painful to bear.
For me, this is another in a long line of beautifully written books about Appalachia that somehow manage to be gritty and cruel as well as uplifting and magical. Not unlike Appalachia itself.

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