The author returns to Cataloochee (2007).
In his debut, Caldwell traced the history of a homesteading community in the Appalachians from the 1830s to the 1930s, when the U.S. government bought—or, depending on how you look at it, seized—this land to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Now, Caldwell picks up his tale more or less where he left off, following the disparate paths of residents who leave, those who stay and the newcomers drawn by the park. Oliver Babcock Jr., the dandyish lawyer who emerged as an unlikely hero in the first novel, returns on behalf of the Parks Commission, trying to convince people who have grown to trust him to sell their property. Similarly, Cataloochee native Jim Hawkins attempts to ease his one-time neighbors into a new life of federal restrictions as the park’s warden. Then there’s Silas Wright, a farmer who stubbornly decides to neither sell out nor leave. There’s drama here—from domestic strife in the Hawkins household to arson—but this story is not quite as compelling as Cataloochee, and Caldwell occasionally succumbs to some of the temptations he avoided in his first outing. There are, for example, several speeches, monologues that strain the reader’s credulity and exude a rather clunky sentimentality. Southerners, dirt farmers, individuals who favor mules to motorcars: Characters such as these have been so thoroughly romanticized and caricatured that it’s almost impossible to render them as real people, and doing just that was one of Caldwell’s greatest achievements in Cataloochee. That novel was also graced by a sort of organic wholeness that was a perfect match for its subject, and Caldwell does not accomplish that again. Nevertheless, to say that this novel is not quite as good as its predecessor is hardly an insult.
Another tale of community and transition from a writer to watch.