Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Coal Tattoo


The very talented Silas House continues his long love letter to Kentucky in this starkly beautiful, third novel, following Clay's Quilt (2000) and A Parchment of Leaves (2002). Although it follows characters created in his previous novels it is not a sequel. These are all stand-alone books that a person can enjoy reading in any order.

In coal country, when a miner survives the collapse of a mine, he'll often surface with a permanent mark stamped onto his skin--a greenish blue imprint, sometimes jagged-edge, sometimes smooth--a symbol of endurance and sacrifice. A coal tattoo. In Silas House's new novel, everyone who's raised in Black Banks is indelibly marked by and forever connected to the place, which is how it is for Anneth and Easter. At the heart of The Coal Tattoo is the story of these two sisters who can't live together, but can't bear to be apart. Left to raise themselves in a small coal mining town in Tennessee, Anneth and Easter are as different as night and day.

The two sisters can't stand to live together, but can't bear to be apart. One worships the flashy world of Nashville, the other is a devout Pentecostal. One falls into the lap of any man, the other is afraid to even date. One gets pregnant in a flash, the other desperately wants to have child. This is what's at the heart of Silas House's third, masterful novel, which tells the story of Easter and Anneth, tragically left parentless as children, who must raise themselves and each other in their small coal-mining town. Easter is deeply religious, keeps a good home, believes in tradition, and is intent on rearing her wild younger sister properly. Anneth is untamable, full of passion, determined to live hard and fast. It's only a matter of time before their predilections split their paths and nearly undo their bond. How these two women learn to overcome their past, sacrifice deeply for each other, and live together again in the only place that matters is the story of The Coal Tattoo.

As with the previous two books, The Coal Tattoo is beautifully written, describing in detail the backdrop of the mining town of Free Creek and the surrounding areas. The beauty of these three books is not just in the description of the mountains and the land, but of the simple life that the characters live. Silas House has a way with words, and the novels evoke memories of a time long gone. It brings to one a feeling of nostalgia.

I highly recommend The Coal Tattoo, as well as Clay's Quilt and A Parchment of Leaves, to anyone who loves reading the deep, rich words that come from the Appalachian region of Kentucky. Silas House is a true Kentuckian with a nack for prose that elevates him to one of the literary greats of our time

1 comment:

____Maggie said...

Wow! What high praise. I've not tried Silas House which has to be a pen name, but will now!

The coal tattoo is a neat concept; I have two tattoos which were accidentally made. One is a piece of pencil lead stuck in my leg in fifth grade. I jabbed myself and the lead embedded, but it hurt too much to work out - so - I left it! The second is from my cat. We were playing and she broke the skin of my left hand with her claws like a fish hook. Her claws were dirty and I expected an infection, but all I got was a dirty tattoo. :)