Slow going on the novel revisions, but I do have a handful of book recommendations:
- Robert Morgan, The Balm of Gilead Tree. Morgan is an elder statesman of Appalachian literature, and this book of his selected stories is excellent. Set in the Green Valley near Hendersonville, N.C., the stories move chronologically from the 17th century and the arrival of the white man to present day (or at least the late ’90s). I particularly enjoyed “Poinsett’s Bridge,” which is about a stonemason working on a bridge to connect the Piedmont to the mountains; “Kuykendall’s Gold,” which is about a young woman who marries and old man who has gold buried in his woods; “Dark Corner,” which is about an impoverished family on the road; and “The Welcome,” which is about a soldier returning from WWII and is reminiscent of Hemingway’s “A Soldier’s Story.” Overall, the collection is a good example of a writer plumbing deep into a setting, and the way Morgan explores history should offer an explosion of creativity to any aspiring writer.
- Patricia Engel, Vida. This is an excellent first collection of stories from a young writer I met in Key West. The stories are linked by a common protagonist, Sabina, a Colombian-American living in New Jersey and who migrates to New York City and then to Florida. The stories have a funny, sharp voice along the lines of Junot Diaz, though I think the subject matter is a bit more bold — a young woman confronted with love, death, terrorism, and ennui — all presented in a wry, unsentimental voice. The line that won me over came early: “around here, they card you to buy smokes and nobody has the nerve to break any kind of rules. It’s a town full of wusses, a polo-shirt army of numbnuts.”
- Tom Franklin, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Franklin’s new one is a contemporary murder mystery set in rural Mississippi. It’s a quick read and a great study in plotting. Looking back on it, I do think the plot is a bit too neat, the characters not quite as deep as in Hell at the Breech or the novella “Poachers,” but it’s still a good read and a must for southern bibliophiles. I’ve got a review coming out in the newspaper in a couple of weeks, which I’ll link to.