by Amy Greene
Review by Malcolm R. Campbell
In the summer of 1936 there was one woman left on the mountaintop where the river’s headwaters formed in rocks ages old and shining with mica, the sediment washing down to tinge its shoals yellow-brown. Most others with her last name had died or moved on decades ago. Though darkness came to her high place first she could climb to this limestone ridge overlooking the cornfields and see daytime lingering in the valley below.
Amy Greene (“Bloodroot”) lives in the foothills of eastern Tennessee where she was born and raised and, as the lyrical prose in Long Man testifies, fell in love with the land and the blue-collar Appalachian people who cling to their world through floods and droughts with great determination.
Annie Clyde Dodson is one of the valley’s last holdouts against eviction as the TVA completes a dam that will soon contain the waters of the river her Cherokee ancestors named Long Man. The river is rising and the TVA is dispersing Yuneetah’s residents before the lake claims their land forever. While Annie’s husband is ready to move on, Annie is too much a part of the valley to leave without a fight. Keeping the farm whole and safe for her three-year-old daughter Grace is more important than electricity.
The roads connecting Yuneetah to the world will be under water shortly after the moving-out deadline imposed by the TVA. Amos, a drifter who was born in the valley, comes back for one last look and his own hidden motives. Grace goes missing on a day Annie saw Amos in her cornfield. A desperate search begins. Some think Amos took her. Others think she ran off and drowned in the lake. The TVA refuses to draw down the water to give the searchers more time.
Long Man is at once a well-plotted, deliberately paced adventure and a dark love song to the mountain people who–like the Cherokee before them–are being displaced in the name of “progress.” The story is told from multiple points of view including Annie, her husband James, the bootlegger Silver who watches the world from her mountaintop, the sheriff who must do his duty, and Amos who moves through the woods and fields like a phantom. Each person has a story to tell as the drama unfolds and Long Man begins to take away the town.
While the pacing of this highly descriptive and atmospheric narrative may frustrate readers who seldom read literary fiction, Greene’s novel is nonetheless an impeccable portrait of a doomed town and a resolute people. Annie, Silver and Amos are characters not easily forgotten–nor should they be.
TITLE: Long Man
AUTHOR: Amy Greene
PUBLISHER: Knopf (February 25, 2014)