About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)
A charming and engrossing novel for fans of Southern fiction and the recent hit memoir Hillbilly Elegy about a lush and storied coal-mining town—and the good people who live there—in danger of being destroyed for the sake of profit. Will the truth about the town’s past be its final undoing or its saving grace?
1933. In the mining town of Beulah Mountain, West Virginia, two young girls form an unbreakable bond against the lush Appalachian landscape, coal dust and old hymns filling their lungs and hearts. Despite the polarizing forces of their fathers—one a mine owner, one a disgruntled miner —Ruby and Bean thrive under the tender care of Bean’s mama, blissfully unaware of the rising conflict in town and the coming tragedy that will tear them apart forever.
2004. Hollis Beasley is taking his last stand. Neighbors up and down the hollow have sold their land to Coleman Coal and Energy, but Hollis is determined to hold on to his family legacy on Beulah Mountain. Standing in his way is Buddy Coleman, an upstart mining executive who hopes to revitalize the dying town by increasing coal production and opening the Company Store Museum. He’ll pay homage to the past—even the massacre of 1933—while positioning the company for growth at all costs.
What surprises them all is how their stories will intersect with a feisty octogenarian living hundreds of miles away. When Ruby Handley Freeman’s grown children threaten her independence, she takes a stand of her own and disappears, propelling her on a journey to face a decades-old secret that will change everything for her and those she meets.
This novel’s gritty historical detail, unexpected plot twists, and literary leanings set it apart as something special within its genre. The coal mining town and its people come vividly to life on the page, as do the spunky octogenarian Ruby and her family. The split time structure works well, flowing logically and smoothly from 1933 to 2004 and back again, without losing the reader along the way.
“I think people see their story here. The pain and brokenness. And it helps them make sense of their own. They soak in the horror and the beauty of it.”
That quote from Chapter 52 is referring to the history of the mining town’s Company Store as shared in a local museum, but I think it could just as appropriately be applied to this work of fiction itself. As with many beautifully written stories, this one uses the specific details of one particular location and cast of characters to address the general human condition in a way that’s broadly relatable.
A great choice for book discussion groups and anyone who enjoys a thought provoking story with some unexpected twists and turns along the way.
Thank you to Tyndale House for providing a complimentary advance reader copy of the book for review purposes.