Howdy from Palm Springs! I’m out here enjoying the area (most especially the restaurants) while my husbear works in Moreno Valley, California.
I have so many writer friends that I could easily read nothing else but their latest publications. This summer I gobbled up several novels by Julia Watts, with whom I’ve co-edited LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia, due out Spring 2019 from WVU Press.
Julia’s new novel, Quiver, will be released in October 2018, but I got a chance to read the Advance Reader’s Copy so as to write a blurb. This is what I wrote: “Julia Watts’ latest novel captures, with painful accuracy, the pointed conflicts between liberals and ultra-conservatives, tensions that pervade the United States in general and Appalachia in particular at this perilous point in our country’s history. Quiver is one of the most moving books I’ve ever read.”
I wasn’t exaggerating. The tension in this novel builds and builds, and the last four or five chapters tore me up. An unexpected ending indeed.
The next novel of Julia’s I got to was Secret City, which is written as a series of excerpts from the journal of Ruby Pickett, a girl from rural southeastern Kentucky who moves with her family to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during the Second World War. Julia gets the dialect, the food, and the customs of Appalachia just right, and the humor in the book is amazing. I was snorting and guffawing regularly. And then again…the ending wrecked me.
Undaunted by my copious Daddybear tears, I next read The Kind of Girl I Am, the story of Vestal Jenkins, who grows up in a Kentucky coal camp and ends up the proprietor of a bawdy house in Knoxville, Tennessee. The novel encompasses decades, and once again the humor had me howling—I’d often interrupt my husband at his desk to read out loud some particularly delicious bit. The book reminded me of Lee Smith’s Fair and Tender Ladies, in that it follows the life—pretty much from beginning to end—of a strong, complex woman. When I cried over yet another ending, I e-mailed Julia and mock-cussed her…and she’s agreed to buy me Kleenex in future.
This week, on the plane to Palm Springs, I started another of Julia’s novels, Hypnotizing Chickens, which is very enjoyable so far. My guess is that I’ll keep reading her books till I’ve read them all. She’s a major talent!
In addition, this summer I read a few fine books about Iceland and Norse mythology. These books will serve two purposes: 1. To help me write a proposed trilogy of novels “queering” the Vikings, and 2. To prepare me for a Study Abroad “Wintermester” trip to Iceland with Virginia Tech students and a wonderful colleague, Jane Wemhoener, in January 2020 (if that fucker Trump hasn’t destroyed the planet by then).
Iceland Saga, by Magnus Magnusson, is a great overview of the history of that beautiful country and its saga literature. The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion by Daniel McCoy contains many retellings of Norse myths and an intelligent examination of the Norse worldview. Finally, From Asgard to Valhalla: The Remarkable History of the Norse Myths by Heather O’Donoghue includes very helpful discussions of how Wagner and Tolkien used Norse mythological material in their work and how German nationalists and Aryan supremacists used the same material to forward their agendas.