Culture > Notable Books

Notable Books

Notable Books | Four books set in the Appalachians

Issue: "De-coding Morsi," July 28, 2012

The Ballad of Tom Dooley

McCrumb bases her story on the ballad made famous by the Kingston Trio. It involves a cold-hearted young mountain woman-Pauline Foster-who comes to live with her married cousin, Ann, while seeking treatment for syphilis, called the pox. Her cousin, not knowing what really ails Pauline, allows her to stay in exchange for work. A complicated relationship develops between Tom Dula, Ann, Pauline, and another cousin, Laura. Laura gets murdered, and suspicion falls on Dula, who eventually hangs for the crime. McCrumb's extensive research helped her piece together events surrounding the crime. She tells the story through Pauline's twisted narration of Dula's defense attorney, Zebulon Vance, who went on to become a U.S. senator. McCrumb wonderfully evokes life in the North Carolina mountains after the Civil War.

A Land More Kind Than Home

A mysterious snake-handling preacher comes to a North Carolina mountain town, bringing with him secrets and a perverse reading of Scripture. Old newspapers pasted over the windows hide from outsiders bizarre church activities. When Jess' mother takes his autistic brother Stump into a healing service at the church, Jess can only peek in from outside. What he sees, and the tragedies that unfold, overtake the family, the church, and the whole community. Cash tells the story through Jess' eyes, through the eyes of an old woman who left the church to protect the children, and through those of sheriff Clem Barefield. Cash's evocative tale contrasts childhood naiveté with adult hypocrisy and evil.

The Good Dream

VanLiere's honey-toned narrator, Ivorie, lives in the Tennessee mountains, where her neighbors consider her a spinster. She tells about a time shortly after her mother's death when she's blocking out grief by working herself hard, putting up fruits and vegetables, and cooking more than she could ever eat. As the summer goes on, a neighbor man begins to court her, and she begins to feel a glimmer of hope about her future. Then a mysterious boy shows up in her garden. Friends warn her against getting involved, but Ivorie ignores them, and her life heads in a completely new direction. VanLiere shows how a close-knit community can rally around its neighbors and turn a deaf ear to the cries of a stranger. She also shows the joy that comes through sacrificial love.

Travelers Rest

Jane Morrow travels to Asheville, N.C., to see her fiancé in the VA hospital, where he is recovering from war wounds that made him a quadriplegic. In despair, he wants to die. Tatlock gives us enough about Seth before his injury so that we understand the depths of his loss. She also shows Jane's day-by-day struggle to understand and cope with this new normal. Gradually she develops friends at the hospital. They also gather around Seth, helping him to see beyond his immediate circumstances. Asheville's quirkiness-the drum circle and restaurants-figures in the story. Tatlock's sensitive handling of her characters keeps the story from being maudlin or sappy.


In Quiet (Crown, 2012), Susan Cain argues for the value of introversion in an extroverted country. She notes that introverts come in many varieties, but in general they thrive with less "stimulation," listen more than talk, and prefer focused work to multi-tasking. Cain traces America's love affair with extroversion back to Dale Carnegie, through Harvard Business School, and into corporate boardrooms and school classrooms. She says that risk-taking extroverts made the bets that resulted in the financial crisis.

Not every culture values the bold extrovert: Asian-Americans in Cupertino thrive in a high school that values the chess team more than the football squad. Most Americans, by contrast, tend to equate introversion with shyness and think it needs fixing. The book combines great storytelling, research, and practical advice. Although the book has a weak understanding of evangelicalism-"Contemporary evangelicalism says that every person you fail to meet and proselytize is another soul you might have saved"-she highlights the way some evangelical practices make introverts feel like misfits in the church.

Listen to Susan Olasky discuss these three of these books set in the Appalachians on WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.


You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading


    Troubling ties

    Under the Clinton State Department, influence from big money…