Verra, West Virginia, is the setting of this sweeping novel, in which first- and second-generation immigrants with coal-stained hands and blackened lungs forge new lives for their growing families amid secrets that run as deep and dark as the coal mines.
Between the years 1916 and 1969, Alta Krol and Myrthen Bergmann encounter each other only a few times. Little do they realize their lives are as intertwined as a wreath made from the thin branches of a myrtle tree. Alta is driven by artistic passion, her love for Myrthen's husband and a dream to flee the hills of Appalachia. “She’d never been to Florida, or anywhere but where she was right then, in a lackluster coal-mining town with mountains like arms around her, always squeezing. Every day of all of her thirty-eight years had been spent in a town that, at its greatest density, contained only a little more than seven thousand people.” Religious fervor, a desire to extricate herself from her loveless marriage and a maniacal ambition to become a nun drive Myrthen. “It seemed Heaven was the only place she might find love; none of her relationships with the living had turned out particularly well.” A devastating mine explosion buries their sins and the burdens of their shame, until many years later, when the 3-year-old town prophet, Gabriel, unearths them, providing both Alta and Myrthen, at long last, reckoning and redemption. Cander (11 Stories, 2013, etc.) divinely delves into multiple points of view, crafting a collage of vibrant, layered characters while charting six decades of poignant, precise moments.
A distinctive novel that sublimely measures the distressed though determined heartbeat of a small mountain community.