Some novels are so powerful, so magical in their sweep and voice, that they leave you feeling drugged. Close the pages and the people in them keep right on talking to you. Amy Greene's debut novel, Bloodroot, set in the bone-poor hollows of the eastern Tennessee mountains, is such a book.
The story of the Lamb family is a grievous one. Every generation has been touched by some spirit of madness, blessed in their ability to connect with the land beneath their feet, but doomed. Greene tells the tales of their torched destinies from varied points of view, from a grandmother who came up during the Depression to the tortured mountain boy who loves the woman's granddaughter to the great-grandchildren, twins who must find a way to refuse the family curse.
I found myself close to tears at several turns devastated along with the characters by another crazed loss and yet never depressed. Greene's writing is so pure and effortless, so evocative of a far-off place, that the beauty of her words transcends whatever miseries her characters must overcome. Life on Bloodroot Mountain is tough, with kids running wild and old women taping up their rattling windows to keep out the howling wind. But it beats the bleak landscape of the boarded-up town at the bottom of the mountain, where empty lots are studded with shattered glass and grown men can quickly turn mean. Greene, who grew up in the Smoky Mountains, captures what poverty looks and feels and sounds like. Her descriptions of a life lived by the railroad tracks rival any corner scene from The Wire. The vernacular is effortless and thick (''I swear that's the orneriest creature I ever seen, but Bill loves her like somebody''). When her characters fall in love, they fall dangerously deep. ''It was like he reeled her across the parking lot by an invisible hook in her perfect lip.'' This is a terribly sad, breathtakingly good read. Greene, get to writing another one quick. A