Greene’s debut shows three generations of an eastern Tennessee family struggling against abusive men and narrow middle-class values that try to destroy their unusually active spirits.
In the 1960s, Byrdie raises her granddaughter Myra on Bloodroot Mountain. She can tell early on that Myra has “the touch,” an extra sensitivity passed down by the women of their family, though it skipped Byrdie. Myra’s grandmother is especially devoted to her because all of Birdie’s children died young, including Myra’s mother Clio, whose car was hit by a train while she was out hell-raising with Myra’s dad. The narration of Part One alternates between Birdie and Myra’s boyhood friend Doug, who loves the wild girl but knows she’ll never be his. Then puberty hits. Poor Doug, the novel’s most endearing, least tortured character, disappears from the book after Myra is swept up in a passionate romance with John Odom, whose father owns a local hardware store in the valley. John’s family is as “touched” in its way as Myra’s. Desire turns into violent possessiveness. Greene manipulates her narrative at this point so that Myra’s return to the mountain to raise twins Laura and Johnny without her husband goes unexplained. The twins’ accounts alternate in Part Two; Myra and then John narrate the novel’s final 100 pages. This fractured chronology builds suspense, allowing for red herrings and portentous foreshadowing like Myra’s box holding a ring with a man’s finger still attached. When their mother is placed in an insane asylum, the twins are sent to foster care. Laura marries, but her husband drowns, and his mother takes away their baby. Brilliant but troubled Johnny burns down the Odoms’ hardware store and seems headed for a bad end until he meets the mysterious Ford Hendrix, a reclusive Pulitzer Prize winner who once knew Myra and is missing a finger or two.
Pitch-perfect voices tell a story loaded with lyric suffering and redemption—bound to be a huge hit.