Book Report: Local voices, local themes

Western North Carolina is no New York. I realize that’s stating the obvious, but at the risk of pressing my case, WNC can’t measure up in terms of city-scapes, cabbies, ethnic eateries or high-end clothiers. However, when it comes to the literary scene, there’s no lack of talent, subject matter or inspiration here.

Want history? Mystery? Intrigue? Romance? Activism? No need to pick up a citified Tom Clancy novel. Local authors are bringing it when it comes to genre fiction.

• WNC-based novelist Vicki Lane name checks Asheville, Weaverville and Cherokee in her most recent mystery Old Wounds. The page-turner, set on a small farm in N.C., traces a decades-old mystery where a ten year-old part-Native American girl vanished without a trace. Sleuth Elizabeth Goodweather, whose daughter Rosemary was friends with the missing girl, Maythorn, gets caught up in the case in hopes of helping Rosemary face down ghosts of the past.

Lane’s writing style is conversational and inviting. However, her over-use of italics (sometimes whole chapters where the specter of Maythorn recounts her own story) can be distracting. Love, loss, issues of abuse and the sometimes harsh and impenetrable beauty of the region all play into the telling.

Lane’s forth book in the Elizabeth Goodweather series will be released in 2008.

• Also dealing with local climes, Cherokee people and places, and WNC pastimes such as hunting, fishing and kayaking, Marion-based writer Ed Krause follows up his first novel, Our Kinfolks with second installment, Our Next of Kin. The mystery novel is told from the perspective of a young lawyer, Junior Garfield, who moves back to his family home of Stark County to solve the murder of his Native American friend Lightfeather.

The book leans heavily on conversation, and at times characters are spottily identified, leading to confusion for the reader. Also, some characters come off as a bit comical and over-the-top, and the introduction of Asian “bad guys” gives a Kung Fu B-movie feel more than actual intrigue. But at 242 pages the novel is a quick and mostly entertaining read, lending insight into the area and its natural beauty.

Fans of Krause’s work can hear him read at the Burke County Public Library in Morganton, N.C. on Saturday, Oct. 27 from 2-4 p.m.

• Clay County, N.C., wedged between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Georgia state line, might have few claims to fame, but native daughter-turned author Eva Nell Mull Wilke, Ph.D is putting it on the map. Her book, In the Shadow of the Devil’s Post Office, set in Clay County’s Matheson’s Cove, received this year’s Robert Bruce Cooke History Book Award from the North Carolina Society of Historians.

Wilke’s book is the story of her own family’s lineage and struggles against the backdrop of the evolving N.C. mountain community. Like Lane and Krause’s works, Post Office weaves in Cherokee history and lore, beginning with Wilke’s own great-grandmother, a Cherokee Indian who hid in a cave during the winter of 1838 to avoid forced relocation via the Trail of Tears.

The NCSH judging panel called the book a “genealogy of a family written in ‘story’ form, which is a hundred percent reader-friendly.” It also includes illustrations by the author’s husband, Jim Wilke.

The book can be purchased online from Tennessee Valley Publishers.

• Okay, so author Jeff Biggers, who splits his time between Illinois and Italy (poor thing), isn’t exactly local. But his subject matter, the Appalachian mountains, its history and people, is close to the heart of Western North Carolinians.

“Appalachia needs no defense, it needs more defenders,” is the tag line for Bigger’s book,  The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America.  The non-fiction work, weighing in at a slim 256 pages, argues that the seeds of American culture and politics are rooted not in Eastern seaboard cities but in the Appalachian mountains. Why? North Carolina Patriots declared themselves free of British rule prior to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, and the anti-slavery movement dates back to Appalachian emancipation activists John Rankin and Benjamin Lundy.

Biggers is an NPR commentator, and his work against mountain-top removal was recently featured on Salon. He’ll appear at Malaprops on Sunday, Nov. 11, at 1 p.m. to read from Appalachia. (Also at that reading: Storyteller Lynn Salsi who will sign copies of her book, Voices from the North Carolina Mountains: Appalachian Oral Histories; and Robert Morgan who will sign copies of Boone, a biography of Daniel Boone.)

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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