A giant of a man seeks his fortune in the hills of West Virginia.
Taylor (English/Harper Coll.; The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, 2008) fluidly composes a portrait of a man whose sheer fortitude makes molehills out of mountains. The book’s moral center is Loyal Ledford, a country orphan who sweats out a living tending the furnace at a factory in Huntington. On the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Ledford resigns to join the Marines and discovers the horrors of war in places like Guadalcanal. Returning home in the company of his comrade Erm Bacigalupo, Ledford marries a local girl and tries to settle down to raise his family, but the tremors of war just won’t subside. It’s only when Ledford meets his two hell-raising cousins that his path becomes clear. “I knowed you would come,” says one of the Bonecutter brothers, acknowledging Ledford’s almost mystical presence in the lives of those who gather around him. Following a vision, Ledford starts the titular marble company and by the 1960s has built a burgeoning community on Bonecutter Ridge. The communal village is built on common-sense values, providing protection for the working poor and an equal playing field for men of all colors. But rural prejudices and encroaching governmental interference soon not only threaten the safety of those under Ledford’s protection but could drive its denizens into an unwelcome Diaspora. Taylor makes a few prosaic missteps—everything seems to be the color of rust—but the powerful prose outstrips its few drawbacks. It’s a big, ambitious book that falls somewhere between the sweeping epics of Richard Russo and the masculine bravado of Ken Kesey’s best work.
A huge ensemble cast and a complex social narrative may put casual readers off, but the rewards for those who see this one through are satisfying indeed.