Hunter offers a debut historical novel about three women’s difficult lives in rural 20th-century Appalachia.
In Covington, Virginia, in 1923, 13-year-old Mona Parsons, a willful child of a local family, is lured away from town by Jackson Slocomb, a predator from Pennsylvania who takes her to North Carolina. Jackson scars her face, rapes her, and gets her pregnant, but a Cherokee farmer named Tall Corn takes her away from him. She becomes Tall Corn’s wife and is renamed Two Tears. With the help of her mother-in-law, a healer and sage named Beloved Mother, she gives birth to a son, Briar. Tall Corn raises the boy as his own for 10 years while Beloved Mother trains Two Tears as her replacement. But when Tall Corn dies from an accidental leg wound, Beloved Mother curses her white in-laws and drives them from their land. Later, Anna Parsons, Mona’s younger sister, runs off with a man named Clint Goodman who promises to take her to a city. They end up in the Breakline mining camp near the Kentucky border, where she meets a Cherokee midwife named Granny Slocomb who’s related to Jackson. Anna has a baby as the result of an affair with the mining supervisor and names her Lily Marie Goodman. As the years pass, the histories of these women become progressively intertwined, and the tragedies of the Cherokee people assert themselves in their lives. Hunter’s prose is lyrical and provides frequent, vivid asides about the nature spirits of Cherokee mythology: “Ordinary June days in Carolina gather enough heat to tassel corn, but Sister Sun cannot convince the ground to hold her warmth this season. And Great Spirit is not cooperating, so she drags a dingy anvil shaped cloud over her face and sulks.” The novel’s plot builds very slowly, with its quiet storylines gradually unfolding over the course of hundreds of pages. The payoffs take a long time to arrive, and don’t always satisfy, when they finally do. However, the story finds its strength in its myth-infused setting, where curses and destinies seem to loom in every shadow.
A haunting, slow-burn intergenerational family saga.