If you like to read a heart-racing thriller, "Long Man" by Amy Greene is a must-read. Greene, whose debut novel "Bloodroot" was a national bestseller four years ago, has followed up with a gripping historical novel, set in 1936 in an east Tennessee community that is soon to be flooded by a recently completed TVA dam.
As the lake behind the dam rises, the town of Yuneetah has been abandoned by all of its former residents except for a young family: Annie Clyde Dodson, her husband James, and their 3-year-old daughter Gracie.
Some families have been relocated to other areas nearby-but many have moved north to find work in the industries of Detroit. James has rented a house in Detroit and wants the family to re-locate in hopes of greater economic opportunities.
Annie Clyde is the hold-out, determined-against all reason-to stay on the river farm that has been in her family for generations. She wants Gracie to know the life close to the land that she has enjoyed growing up. Annie Clyde says, "The farm was part of her. She knew the lay of the land like her tongue knew the back of her teeth . . . From the time she realized she was expecting, she had dreamed of her child roaming the fields in summer. She knows the trees she wanted the child to climb, the flowers she wanted her child to name, the fruits she wanted her child to taste."
One evening, as they are arguing about their future, they notice that Gracie has disappeared. Has she wandered off-or has she been abducted by a drifter who was seen around the farm that afternoon?
Since the novel is set during the 1930s, Greene is able to dramatize the spiritual struggle of the people in the region who are not only displaced by the construction of TVA dams, but the industrialization that is changing the area forever. And Greene knows the landscape of the Appalachians so intimately that you feel as if you have been searching for a lost child--walking the rocky stream beds, struggling through the laurel thickets, and climbing the cliffs rising above Long Man.
In contrast to "Bloodroot," which ranged in time and was filled with dozens of characters and told by multiple narrators, "Long Man" is tightly constructed around three days and a limited number of characters.
Even within this taut structure, Greene is able to evoke the entire history of the Appalachian region, just as Lee Smith does in her finest Appalachian novels. For example, the title "Long Man" refers to what one of the characters says was "a corruption of an Indian word for the spirit of the river . . . The Cherokees who once lived on its shores had called it Long Man, with his head in the mountains and his feet in the lowlands."
With "Long Man," Greene has risen in stature to be in the top tier of contemporary Appalachian novelists, rivaling Ron Rash and Silas House in the quality of her fiction. Her prose will remind you of Rash's fiction in terms of its action, with reverberations of Harriette Arnow's "The Dollmaker" and even "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Amy Greene will give a reading and sign books at the Washington County Public Library, Abingdon, Va., March 16 at 3 p.m.
Greene lives in Hamblen County, Tenn., with her husband and two children.
Ben Jennngs is retired after 45 years of teaching literature and film appreciation at Virginia Highlands Community College and is the co-chairperson of the editorial committee of A! Magazine.