In the 1930s, with America in the grip of the Great Depression, the Tennessee Valley Authority Act was established, granting the government the right to build dams to provide electricity and better economic times to those hard hit in Appalachia.
Progress came with a price. People mourned the loss of their land as water lapped along front porches and swallowed up farms passed down from one generation to the next.
Such is the plight of Annie Clyde, a stubborn, strong-willed hill woman, in the beautifully, descriptive new novel “Long Man,” by Amy Greene. As Greene writes of her home state, her adoration for her roots is apparent, gifting readers with a work of historical fiction with a strong sense of place.
Annie Clyde stands her ground, not even her husband James can convince her she can’t fight the government. Annie Clyde, James and their 3-year-old daughter are about the only holdouts. Everyone on neighboring farms and in nearby Yuneetah has moved, accepted the buyout because of the dam that’s been built on the Long Man River.
As the waters creep ever closer, tragedy strikes the family. Their daughter disappears at the same time that a disfigured town vagrant, distrusted by the community, comes back to town. Annie Clyde is convinced the despicable Amos has taken Gracie, a dread made even more ominous because she’s seen him on their land, and believes he’s capable of murder.
Amos is a complex man. Orphaned as a child, he’s taken in by Beulah, who continues to believe in his goodness, as does Silver, an aunt to Annie Clyde. Though Amos and Silver are separated for long periods of time, when he returns to the area, they reaffirm their longstanding and complicated love affair.
While encroaching waters swirl, and the frantic search for little Gracie continues, blame and hysteria rise like the floodwaters. “Long Man” is captivating and best digested slowly to appreciate the author’s rich voice.
Southern author, Wiley Cash, burst onto the literary scene with “A Land More Kind Than Home,” published in 2012, and a personal favorite. Not sure Cash could repeat his success, I approached “This Dark Road to Mercy,” his newest, with fingers-crossed. I needn’t have worried. “Dark Road” is excellent, also narrated by a child, but far from a cookie-cutter copy of Cash’s debut.
The novel opens on a baseball diamond, with 12-year-old Easter Quillby on the field and her 6-year-old sister in the stands. Following their mother’s unexpected death, their father Wade, a washed-up minor-leaguer, relinquishes custody of the girls. Easter and Ruby are placed in a group foster home.
Easter is a take-charge child because she’s had to be — her mother was never well. Embittered, she continually warned Easter to stay away from Wade, but he’s determined to reunite with his daughters. That doesn’t set well with Easter, but she longs for the home that Wade offers if the girls will escape from foster care, and take a road trip with him to another state where no one will find them.
What Easter and Ruby don’t know is that Wade is being pursued by a sadistic man tied to him by his checkered past — a paid killer determined to take Wade out. Also in hot pursuit of the reunited family is the girls’ court guardian, Brady Weller, a former policeman with his own personal scars. Set in 1998, as Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire compete for the homerun record, St. Louis readers will find the book especially appealing and will be able to envision the final thrilling scene at Busch Stadium.
Cash has knocked another one out of the park with “This Dark Road to Mercy.” He’s certain to have another hit on his hands.
Jane Pauley has written THE book on reinventing yourself, and her reading of the audio book “Your Life Calling, Reimagining the Rest of Your Life” isn’t a CD you’ll just want to listen to once. It’s a keeper — one to invest in — a recording to relish with a pen in hand to capture the wisdom Pauley shares. Words delivered in that soothing voice so many of us appreciated when she co-hosted “Today” and was an anchor on “Dateline.”
In fact, Pauley’s new book/CD was spearheaded by “Your Life Calling,” a project she worked on with AARP. Segments of the project have appeared on “Today” since 2010.
Though this inspirational CD may seem directed mainly at baby-boomers, of which Pauley, at 63, is a member, it has something to say to people of all ages wishing to make a career change, develop a new hobby or live out a passion that has simmered on the back burner.
“Many people I’ve interviewed who have been through mid-life reinventions began with strong feelings of discontent but emerged feeling liberated and happy,” Pauley writes.
Using her own life story as an example of how she’s continued to reinvent herself, Pauley also focuses on personal narratives from a myriad of others — a man with no recreation in his life who discovers balance by joining a softball league, a retired teacher living out his dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail, and a woman who returns to school in her mid-40s and becomes a substance abuse counselor.
There is much to learn and get fired up about in “Your Life Calling.” As Pauley states, reinvention begins with a single step. It isn’t necessary to know exactly where new vistas, adventures and opportunities will take us. We just have to be willing to keep our eyes open and sometimes “move outside (our) comfort zone.”
As Pauley says at the conclusion of her CD, “Inspiration is everywhere, but you have to be looking.” Here’s to keeping our eyes open in 2014.