Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Title:  The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Author:  Kim Michele Richardson
Publication Information:  Sourcebooks. 2019. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1492691631 / 978-1492691631

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The librarian and her mule spotted it at the same time."

Favorite Quote:  "Being able to return to the books was a sanctuary for my heart. And a joy bolted free, lessening my own grievances, forgiving spent youth and dying dreams lost to a hard life, the hard land, and to folks' hard thoughts and partialities."

Methemoglobinemia is a big word! What, you might as, does it have to do with books and this story? Methemoglobinemia is a medical condition that can be genetic; a symptom is blue-colored skin. One of the most well-know documented cases of this condition is the Fugate family from Kentucky. This book, written by an author born and raised in that region, combines this history with the history of the Pack Horse Library Project. From 1935 until 1943, this Works Progress Administration program hired "book women" to travel by horse or mule through the Appalachians delivering books and other available reading materials to remote homes and school houses.

The main character Cussy Mary Carter is a book woman and one of the Blue People in the small town of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. Ultimately, Cussy's story is about prejudice, about being seen as "different," and about acceptance:

  • "Well, them cloths are a lot like folks. Ain't much difference at all. Some of us is more spiffed up than others, some stiffer, and still, some softer. There's the colorful and dull, ugly and pretty, old new 'guns. But in the end we's all fabric, cut from His cloth. Fabric, and just that."
  • "What I wanted most was to be okay as a Blue. I never understood why other people thought my color, any color, needed fixing."
  • "He didn't know, couldn't know, the load I'd carried as a Blue, the scorn and hatred and gruesome marriage ... I stepped back and shot out a shaky hand. 'No ... you're wrong. There is nothing wrong with your color in your world, a world that wants only whiteness."

It is these themes that resonate especially in the voices and the stories so prevalent in our news these days. Cussy, as a character, resonates because every person, at some point or another, has felt like the "other" in their life. The historical context of the pack horse librarians and the blue people of Kentucky adds another layer of interest to this book. It is a history I was not familiar with. The fiction has yet again pointed me in the direction of learning more about the actual history.

One of the challenges of the book is that it begins with an extreme situation of violence against a woman. It is jarring introduction. Was it necessary? I am not really sure, but it leaves an impact.

Another challenge is that vernacular language that is likely authentic to the time and the region but nevertheless takes getting used to in a written narrative. However, that fades to a minor point in the story itself.

My favorite part of the story is the ending. While reading, I got a point I felt could be the end. However, based on the pages remaining, it was not. Without spoilers, I will say I love the fact that the book brings the story around and grounds it again in the themes of prejudice and acceptance. These issues are not resolved, and I appreciate the fact that the book acknowledges that in this story.

Aside from the story and my review, here is an interesting side note of this book. Kim Michele Richardson's book was published on May 7, 2019. Jojo Moyes' book The Giver of Stars (review coming) has a publication date of October 8, 2019. Both are set in of the Pack Horse Library Project. Both of these books are the stories of the book women in eastern Kentucky. Kim Michele Richardson was born and raised in Kentucky. Jojo Moyes is said to have spent time there researching.

Upon the release of Jojo Moyes book, Kim Michele Richardson raised a concern about alleged plagiarism of her work. Based on the articles I have read, the accusation was denied. Ms. Richardson's publisher, declined to pursue the matter. Where does the truth lie? Perhaps, we will never know, but a literary scandal was too interesting not to mention. Read both and decide for yourself.

For me, this is a memorable story.

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

1 comment:

  1. This book was really enjoyable as an audio book! The vernacular is easier to follow when someone else is pronouncing it. I, too, appreciated the ending, both satisfying but not predictable or neat.