Friday, December 4, 2009

A Year of Kentucky Reading

By Susan

I haven't lived in Kentucky in almost 10 years, yet consider myself a proud Kentuckian. The framework and setting of my current work in progress is soaked in bourbon--a true Kentucky product. I consider myself a writer of southern fiction, and I use that as an excuse to dive into the histories and mysteries of my home state. Because of that, I am fascinated when I find people and things related to Kentucky, because Kentucky news is a rare thing here in Texas.

This year, in my quest for Kentuckiana, I was thrilled to stumble across Russellville native Holly Goddard Jones, the author of Girl Trouble: Stories (Harper Collins, 2009). Her depiction of the fictional town of Roma was so true-to-life of modern day Kentucky that reading it made me suck in my breath and shake my head. It reminds me why I moved away, and it reminds my why I still love it so. Each story in Girl Trouble carries a simple elegance, yet speaks loudly about contemporary rural life.

From there, I found Silas House. I checked out his blog first, then went immediately to Amazon and ordered every novel he's written. (The list is at the end of the post). I sent a shouting email to the whatwomenwrite group after completing Clay's Quilt, saying: I CAN'T BELIEVE I CALL MYSELF A KENTUCKIAN AND I JUST DISCOVERED SILAS HOUSE! From there I found some audio he'd done on NPR and thought: Wow, that man sure talks like home. I allowed my tongue to find the accent of my childhood for a few days after listening to him. I called my mother back home just to hear her say "Tuesdee." The voice in his stories, coupled with his own sound on NPR, pulled my heart home in a way that surprised me.

Next on the list was Barbara Kingsolver's first book in nine years: The Lacuna. I waited anxiously for months for it's arrival. (It's currently #5 on the bestseller lists.) Although she wasn't born in Kentucky, she grew up in Carlisle, Ky, which is about as Kentucky as you can get (and is also 24 miles from my hometown). I loved The Poisonwood Bible, but I will always claim The Bean Trees as my favorite of all of her work--primarily for the same reason I love Silas House: It has a tremendous voice--a Kentucky voice.

Perhaps I can hear this voice so clearly because I don't live there anymore. Texans have their own drawl and twang, as everyone knows. But it does not sound like Kentucky. How can the curl of the words, the cadence of a sentence, and the tone of a paragraph be stamped so solidly to be undeniable Kentucky? And how can these three very different writers all sound like home to me? The voices I hear from Silas House, Holly Goddard Jones and Barbara Kingsolver are fascinatingly distinct. I can't help that think that maybe, just maybe, it's because the voice I keep hearing is also my own.

Silas House's novel list:
Clay's Quilt, 2001
A Parchment of Leaves, 2003
The Coal Tattoo, 2005
Eli The Good, 2009

1 comment:

  1. I lived in Alabama for ten years and can totally relate to this post. Even though I grew up in the Mid-west (with its own distinct accent), I fell in love with the people, the culture of the South. My first story was set there and every word I wrote felt like I'd returned home. In my heart, I'm a southerner. I bought Holly's book as a to-me Christmas gift. I can't wait to open it!


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