Friday, July 01, 2011

Book Review: Appalachian Justice

My Review of Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton

Appalachian Justice is a powerful story. It is Billy May Platte’s story, told mostly in her voice, and filled with the beauty and hardship of her mountain home. Her voice is strong enough to give the story rich texture, but to an ear unaccustomed to the Appalachian mountain dialect it might be difficult to follow. This book is not an easy read, but I encourage readers to make the effort. The characters alone make it a worthwhile story.

Aside from the Appalachian dialect, which will seem like another language to some readers, the book poses other challenges to the reader. Perspective shifts are frequent and sometimes last only a paragraph, and Clayton employs abrupt changes of time and place. Appalachian Justice travels regularly between 2010 and 1975, sometimes going back to the end of World War II. It is often violent. The book slices open the harsh realities of child abuse, rape, prejudice, suicide, and the closed lipped silence of those who know the truth. It is a critical story of home and finding our way there.

Melinda Clayton also does an excellent job bringing even minor characters alive on the page. Her main characters have astonishing depth. The honesty of her protagonist lingers in the mind long after the book is finished, as does the venom of her tobacco spitting antagonist. Clayton has created a villain that makes cold chills run down the spine. Rarely have I seen a character that could get under my skin like this one. Therein lays another one of the difficulties of the book. Appalachian Justice grabbed me by the emotions and did not let go. It took me back to my own childhood, growing up in Eastern Kentucky and reminded me of painful truths about being lesbian in a rural community.

The mountain twang of Clayton’s protagonist rises off the page like the notes of a dulcimer, wrapping the reader in crisp mountain air. Billy May’s story is essentially a love story, but it is also a story of courage and compassion, loss and redemption, and of an impoverished mountain town searching for its lost soul. Appalachian Justice pries into the dark recesses of small town life in a way that is uncomfortably personal. I could easily follow Billy May’s speech, but didn’t always like where her words took me.

No comments: