Novelist Kinder (Honeymooners, 2001, etc.) pours out sudden, undomesticated, melancholy word songs from his home place, where he’s returned to gather stories for stewing in his imagination and memory.
On sabbatical from his teaching job at the University of Pittsburgh—and, not incidentally, from his wife of 20 years—the author holes up in small-town West Virginia to appropriate the stories of “mountaineer characters, both the quick and the dead, among both my family members and strangers.” Here in the haunted hills of his youth, along their twisty roads, he will rediscover “a mostly imagined interior landscape populated by mythic beings: legendary mountain dancers, moonshiners, stupendous marijuana farmers, snakehandlers, blood-feudists, mystery midgets, mothmen, horny space aliens,” to which can be added Hank Williams and Saint Elvis, lover Holly and lover Mary X, a grace-sent sister, Matewan and Blair Mountain, and enough George Dickel to float a boat. Kinder is also there to take mid-life stock of himself: the stories of his youth have a wicked, poignant bite, but they are much of what shaped him today, with all the lying and cheating and wild behavior. It’s not ultimately too surprising that the guy who calls Sid Hatfield “that wisecracking, wiry, killer nihilist magical West Virginian warrior” should later find himself “armed to the teeth, driving my redneck, ritual-feudist kinfolks around in rain that was becoming black and whispery . . . happy as a clam.” Scouting out strange and grief-filled stories, then recounting them with peerless “pure High Hillbilly” flair, Kinder is weak on the emotional front; his wife has him squarely in the crosshairs when she says, “You always have tried to live your life like a country song. Full of fucking melodrama and cheap sentimentality.” He is impenitent, ready to kick back the piano stool the better to hammer the keys: “Who else did I have to bare my so-called soul to, except perhaps the world at large?”
Lucky us, to be out there in the audience.