Book Review: Clay’s Quilt

Clay Sizemore, a young coal miner who lost his mother at a young age, is the main character of Clay’s Quilt. This novel by Silas House, a renowned Kentucky author, was House’s debut novel in 2001. I’m reviewing this book for you because it is one of the best novels I have ever read. It is worth reading whether you are interested in Appalachia or if you are just interested in reading a good novel. If you like a heart-wrenching story, populated by colorful characters, and set in the most difficult of environments, you will enjoy Clay’s Quilt.

The story is a microcosm of life in Appalachia based on this one Eastern Kentucky family but it will strike a familiar chord to members of all Eastern Kentucky families. I know this writer, at times, felt like I was reading about my own family.

Free Creek, the setting for the novel, is located in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, near coal mining operations. Young men like Clay Sizemore and his friend, Cake, are born here and never expect, or want, to leave. They settle into their occupations, raise a family, have a big extended family full of aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews, and this is their life. It can be a very good life. It can also be a hard life, but these people, the people of Appalachia, don’t know that. This is all they know and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Clay Sizemore lost his mother in a tragic car accident when he was three years old. That day, an icy and snowy winter day, Clay’s mother decided she was going to leave her husband. She took Clay with her and lost her life on slick roads. His extended family closed ranks around him and raised him from the age of three. After that day, Clay never knew his father. He had his beloved Aunt Easter, who took care of him as a boy. He also had Uncle Paul, who made quilts, and Dreama, his cousin who he loved like a sister.

Clay became a hard-working coal miner. He worked in the mines during the day, but on the weekends, he and Cake went to the local honky-tonk, drank their fill, and listened to their mountain music. There he met the beautiful Alma, a fiddler with whom he wanted a future, but Alma had her own problems. Most importantly, Clay had a box of his mother’s possessions from which he tries to put together her past, hoping to figure out who she was and who he is. During this time, Uncle Paul is making a quilt – out of the pieces of Clay’s mother’s clothes.

This is a beautiful story written by Silas House in lyrical prose. It is short on sentimentality and long on descriptive characterizations and good storytelling. It is easily readable in a weekend. Clay’s Quilt is a stunning and mystical novel that will stay with you for a long time after you read it.

You can get the Kindle edition at amazon.com or the hardcover or paperback at Abe Book’s. Enjoy! #writing #am writing #blogging #appalachia #Best_Books

Introducing A Regular Blog Feature: Friday Fare to Appalachia

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Hi everyone! Beginning this Friday, 5/27/2016, I will introduce a regular Friday feature on my blog, Writings from the Heart, called Friday Fare to Appalachia.

Every Friday, you can look forward to a story about Appalachia. An essay, an article, a personal story, Appalachian recipes, old ghost stories, folk tales, music, or some manner of information about Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky. I’ll write about Appalachia other days of the week too, but you can depend on it on every Friday.

I hope you will join me for fun on Friday Fare to Appalachia!

Rosemary

 

Appalachian Roots

I am from Appalachia, central Appalchia to be exact. Northeastern Kentucky to be even more exact. My roots have a bit of a split personality. Part Appalachian, part Swedish! What a combination which probably accounts for my split personality and eccentric leanings. Someday, I will write about my Swedish family. Now I want to write about Appalachia. Appalachia breaks my heart.

I have always lived geographically close to Appalachia and spent almost 30 years teaching students who came from the region. I did not grow up deep in the heart of Appalachia but I frequently visited my grandparents and other family who lived in the Central Appalachian region. As I grew up, their culture was my culture, their values were my values, their way of life was my way of life. By the time I was becoming a teenager, Appalachia’s best days were behind it but I didn’t know it. My grandfather had worked hard to insure that his eight children, including my mother, had left the region in order to get an education and seek their fortunes. One had to go elsewhere for an education. There were only two universities reasonably close by and the terrain of the region is geographically isolating.

Poverty was the calling card of the region. My grandfather was a landowner, a successful farmer, and had gas and oil wells on the rich land. When I looked out his front door, I saw acres of corn and tobacco growing and many dairy cattle grazing. He was the exception not the rule. He refused to let his family work in the coal mines, but coal mining was one of the principal industries. Much of the region is not suited for farming as it is too mountainous. Manufacturers did not bring their industries to Eastern Kentucky. There were no good roads.

The people opposed interference from outside the region. They feared that their culture would be taken away, their way of life stolen, their children corrupted. They feared cultural change more than they feared poverty.

My grandparents are gone now but the old farmhouse still stands. Do you know what I see when I look out the door now? Trailer parks. Very poor, hopeless people. Children playing in the dirt yards. Starving dogs surviving on table scraps tied out in the yard. I know enough about the area to know what lies within some of those trailers. Drugs. Heroin. Pain pills. In that county, there is little economic activity with around a 33% unemployment rate. Farming is gone. The gas and oil wells still pump but the owners of the mineral rights live far away or the mineral rights were unfortunately sold along with the land. The people lost their way of life but not to manufacturers or education. They lost it to drugs and poverty.

Appalachia breaks my heart. #appalachia #poverty #drug abuse

Watch this space for much more on Appalachia.