Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

Title:  The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
Author:  Christopher Scotton
Publication Information:  Grand Central Publishing. 2015. 480 pages.
ISBN:  1455551929 / 978-1455551927

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The Appalachian Mountains rise a darker blue on the washed horizon if you're driving east from Indianan in the morning."

Favorite Quote:  "I know you were just wondering, but sometimes wondering is better than knowing."

This books seems to have two stories - one is a coming of age story for a young man and the other is the story of the land. Kevin's story is set in the context of the Appalachian mountains and the coal industry, but it is separate. The story of the land and the coal industry - its key role in the Medgar, Kentucky economy balanced against the environmental impact - is more his grandfather's story than Kevin's. The two stories intertwine, but at times, compete for attention in this book. Each could be complete without the other.

Kevin's story is that of a young man growing up. Kevin is described as being "midway to my fifteenth birthday," but the character reads much younger than that. He seems closer to about eleven or twelve. He is trying to move beyond the death of his younger brother Joshua and the fact that he has the support of neither parent. His father blames him for the accident that caused Joshua's death. His mother is too broken by the accident to support Kevin. This, in fact, is what brings Kevin and his mother to his grandfather's home in Kentucky. His grandfather, Pop, becomes the solace that Kevin needs. In Medgar, Kevin makes new friends and meets some who are definitely not friends. His story and the story of the boys of Medgar deals with grief, guilt, new friendships, and sexual identity.

The story of the coal industry is one that the author refers to as a "Faustian bargain" in an interview. The industry is crucial to the area economy, but at the same time, it irrevocably damages the land. The book describes the process of mountain removal mining. This process uses explosives to remove up to 400 feet of the mountaintops to facilitate reaching the coal seams that lie within the mountain. The rubble fills up nearby valleys. The coal companies state that the process is less costly and requires less manpower than underground mining and this process is also safer for the miners than underground mining. On the other side, the environmental impact on the land cannot be mitigated. In a small town like Medgar, Kentucky, the battle lines are drawn, with equally vehement proponents on both sides. Unfortunately, the conflict in this book becomes deadly. Kevin's friend witnesses the crime, drawing the boys into this bigger conflict.

The structure of the book hinges on this murder. Before that point in the book, the pace is slow and unhurried, much like the beautiful Appalachian setting. The book depicts Kevin, the Appalachian setting, and the colorful characters that occupy Medgar, Kentucky. A slow read, but a well drawn picture of this small town. After that point, the book is all about what the back cover describes as "an epic struggle for survival in the Kentucky mountains." Unfortunately, it is not quite epic and quite long - almost 200 pages. It is still a slow read, especially for being a story of action and survival, and given the subject matter, does not have the pictorial quality of the first half. The focus shifts so completely that the segments of the book could have been independent stories.

Overall, this book is a slow read with a little bit too much included in its scope, but it has some beautiful writing that holds promise for future works by Christopher Scotton.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment