Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Long Man: "Time was unmerciful."

Counterbalanced to my love of New York snob stories is a similar weakness for stories set in poor rural or small town setting about characters for whom every single day is a struggle. Amy Greene arrived on the scene in this genre with her fantastic 2010 novel Bloodroot. And she continues with her new novel, Long Man, out today.

The short, evocative novel takes place in rural Tennessee during the height of the Great Depression, the summer of 1936. President Roosevelt's Tennessee Valley Authority is removing families from their homes and farms in around the small town of Yuneetah in order to build a dam on the river dubbed by Native Americans as Long Man. But at least one resident — a nails-tough, strong-willed woman named Annie Clyde — isn't taking the relocation lying down. Even when her husband James secures a cushy factory job in Detroit, Annie Clyde resists. And as they argue, their 3-year-old daughter Gracie suddenly disappears in the midst of a nasty storm.

As the rest of the novel unfolds, Greene gives us a variety of wonderful characters complete with intricate backs stories— characters who abide by a simple philosophy: "If a person didn't come to depend on material things, it wouldn't hurt to lose them." Will the few remaining townspeople band together to find Gracie? Will their shared pasts interfere with their increasingly fractured futures? And what's the deal with the mysterious drifter named Amos whose connection to the town's sheriff and Annie Clyde's aunt Silver cause complications?

One of my favorite parts of this novel is how it treats the idea of progress. It's not a political novel at all but the theme of how progress (in this case electricity and emerging from the Depression) has its definite collateral damage is as relevant today as it was in 1936 (or 1636 or 836 for that matter). "Time was unmerciful," a character ruminates at one point, and isn't she right?

Another strength of the novel is its pacing — it alternates between hyper-descriptive language (you can smell the drenched terrain during the heavy rain, and you get a very good education on native Eastern Tennessee foliage) and the fast-paced "mystery" of what happened to Gracie. Also worth noting regarding pacing: It does take a little while to get going in this novel, but your patience is rewarded.

The novel also stumbles a little bit in delving back into the past for the back stories of each character — but we eventually find out why each characters' relationship to each other is important. Where do loyalties lie, and therefore, how do these characters' consciences influence how they'll act? They results are sometimes surprising.

So stick with it — the story's rewards become very apparent. And overall, it's definitely a recommended read, if you're also a fan of reading stories that transport you to a place and time very unfamiliar to your own. 

1 comment:

  1. The premise sounds interesting. I'm not familiar with Amy Greene's books so might check this out. Thanks. http://www.thecuecard.com/