My friend Alison, of the Literary Atlanta podcast, gave me an uncorrected proof copy of a debut novel called Holding On To Nothing over lunch one day a few weeks ago. I was finally able to read it during my holiday break from work.
All I have to say is WOW. It grabbed me from page 1.
I don’t know that I would exactly call this an Appalachian novel. As I was reading it I thought to myself that the themes in the book are just human nature and not necessarily Appalachian. The setting could have been anywhere; South Alabama, Texas, etc. It’s just rural farming community living. I’ve even seen this in the city.
The storyline itself isn’t that new either. One night stands, pregnancy, alcoholism, poverty, bar drinking, day drinking, music, and all the other themes that go with that.
I had even painted a picture in my mind of what this place looked like. When I went to Shelburne’s website she’s got a photo on it of some barns in the country and that is exactly the way I pictured it.
But what makes it special for me is Shelburne’s lyrical way of writing these themes and making the characters so relatable that you want everything to work out. You know it won’t, because this isn’t a fairy tale, but you have no idea how it won’t. You want Jeptha to quit drinking. You want Lucy to get that college degree. You begin rooting for these characters to buck the system and prove everyone wrong. But, just when you think it might happen…………..
……….BOOM! Plot twist. I literally yelled a WTF! from the couch. My husband peered around his computer and asked if everything was ok.
No, it most certainly was not. I totally didn’t see it coming.
But I’m not going to spoil it for you.
Just read the book.
Elizabeth discusses her book on NPR. But don’t read the article until after you read the book. Trust me on this.
Lucy Kilgore has her bags packed for her escape from her rural Tennessee upbringing, but a drunken mistake forever tethers her to the town and one of its least-admired residents, Jeptha Taylor, who becomes the father of her child. Together, these two young people work to form a family, though neither has any idea how to accomplish that, and the odds are against them in a place with little to offer other than tobacco fields, a bluegrass bar, and a Walmart full of beer and firearms for the hunting season. Their path is harrowing, but Lucy and Jeptha are characters to love, and readers will root for their success in a novel so riveting that no one will want to turn out the light until they know whether this family will survive.
In luminous prose, debut novelist Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne brings us a present-day Appalachian story in the tradition of Lee Smith, Silas House, and Wiley Cash, cast without sentiment or cliché, but with a genuine and profound understanding of the place and its people.0