The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Kim Michele Richardson, 2019, Sourcebooks, 320 pp, 15.99. 9781492671527
“Right there’ll do it."
Pa fussed one last time with the slide on the courting candle, then finally placed the timekeeper on the table in front of my rocker and the empty seat beside me.
Troublesome Creek, Kentucky.
“There didn’t seem to be much marriage prospect for the last female of blue mountainfolk,” says narrator Cussy Mary. But Mary’s father, a coal miner whose days are running short, intends to see his nineteen-year-old daughter settled.
She resists, for if she marries she will lose her job as a Pack Horse Librarian, carrying books to the hillfolk of “Kaintuck,” and her work is all the security she needs and the only life she wants. Her patrons, poor and uneducated, and many starving to death, relish the books she brings. And despite the hereditary blue skin that renders their “Book Woman” an untouchable in town, they love and respect her.
By depicting the struggles of a woman whose skin tones range from sky blue to cobalt, author Kim Michele Richardson lays bare the lengths to which Mary is willing to go in order to be accepted, and the prejudice and meanness that underlie her shunning by neighbors and co-workers. Richardson skillfully allows her narrator, without self-pity or boasting, to reveal both the pain of her loneliness and the will and compassion that enable her to survive in Troublesome Creek and even flourish as she makes her solitary rounds through Kentucky’s treacherous hills.
Richardson, a master of phrase, cadence, and imagery, once again delivers a powerful yet heartfelt story that gives readers a privileged glimpse into an impoverished yet rigidly hierarchical society, this time by shining a light on the courageous, dedicated women who brought books and hope to those struggling to survive on its lowest rung. Strongly recommended.
Originally published in Historical Novels Review Issue 88, May 2019.
Citation: Kightlinger, Rebecca. "The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek" Historical Novels Review, Issue 88, May 2019
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The Sisters of Glass Ferry
Kim Michele Richardson, 2017, Kensington Publishing Company, pb, 255 pp, 15.00, 9781496709554
Lost things spilled onto the Kentucky’s banks, into fishermen’s hands, more than a few, revealing age-old secrets.
Glass Ferry, Kentucky
Patsy Butler’s been gone for twenty years. Some maintain she ran away with Danny Henry; most presume she’s dead. Yet Jean Butler has just baked another birthday cake for the daughter she’s sure is coming home today.
Patsy’s twin sister, Flannery, is just as sure that today will be a bitter disappointment for her mother. But as she prepares for another birthday-party-that-will-not-be, Flannery flips on the radio and hears that a mud-caked Mercury has just been pulled out of the Kentucky River, “…shedding light on the decades old disappearance…” of the sister Flannery last saw with Danny and Hollis Henry in Hollis’s Mercury, on Ebenezer Road, prom night, 1952.
Flannery harbors two secrets from that night: her own petty theft and the pact she made with Hollis. So, if that car is the one Patsy and Danny disappeared in, Flannery and Hollis will have a decision to make.
In The Sisters of Glass Ferry, Kim Michele Richardson once again evokes secretive, small-town Southern life, this time in the bourbon-distilling, riverside town of Glass Ferry. Told from Flannery and Patsy’s points of view, the nonlinear narrative weaves intriguing characters through the girls’ story: whiskey distiller Beauregard “Honey Bee” Burton; long-dead midwife Joetta Ebenezer, alleged to have been a witch and a murderess, whose spirit still haunts Ebenezer Road; and Hollis Henry, whose character arc takes him from abusive roughneck to town sheriff and family-man-with-a-secret. Like Gunnar Royal, the God-fearing onetime executioner in Richardson’s award-winning Godpretty in the Tobacco Field, it is the complex, enigmatic Hollis, a finely nuanced villain at the heart of the story, who continues to haunt long after Richardson’s skillfully crafted tale ends.
Originally published in Historical Novels Review, Issue 82, Nov, 2017.
Citation: Kightlinger, Rebecca. "The Sisters of Glass Ferry," Historical Novels Review 82 (Nov 2017).
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GodPretty in the Tobacco Field
Kim Michele Richardson, Kensington Books, 2016, $15.00, pb, 278pp, 9781617737350
I’ve been working in the fields since knee-high, and ain’t nothing but all kinds of GodUgly keeps happening around here.
It’s hard to imagine a patch of earth less likely to produce GodPrettty than Gunnar Royal’s snake-infested tobacco field in Nameless, Kentucky. Yet it is in that field that Gunnar strives to cultivate GodPretty, his term for strict Christian obedience and spiritual purity, in his orphaned niece, RubyLyn, the story’s fifteen-year-old narrator and protagonist.
Through scripture, toil, and frequent mouth-washings with a “tincture of biting herbs steeped in moonshine,” the former state executioner tries to break RubyLyn of her aspirations and her sass. His goal? To keep her in line until she can one day take over his tobacco operations. RubyLyn, though, has other ideas. Determined to escape Appalachia’s crushing poverty, child abuse, and bleak prospects, she has set her eye on winning the tobacco competition at the 1969 Kentucky State Fair and on using her winnings to get out of Nameless and become an artist.
The story opens with first-person narration heavy with the diction of the Kentucky hills, bringing the reader immediately into RubyLyn’s world. A few chapters later, while the reader is still enjoying the dialect, Richardson wisely reins it in, skillfully retaining RubyLyn’s colorful narrative voice while allowing dialogue to carry the most eloquent rural colloquialisms.
Filled with the music of Appalachia, the wrath-of-God discipline of a sinner trying to keep a youngster on the straight and narrow, and the bred-in-the-bone dignity of a downtrodden community so secluded that its barefoot children don’t even realize they’re considered “poor,” GodPretty in the Tobacco Fields, a memorable story of secrets and scandal, reckoning and redemption, is fine Southern fiction.
Originally published in Historical Novels Review, Online Issue 76, May, 2016
Kightlinger, Rebecca. "Godpretty in the Tobacco Fields." Historical Novels Review 76 (May 2016): https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/godpretty-in-the-tobacco-fields/.
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