There are library customers who tell us they like our summer reading program because it challenges them to read books they wouldn't normally pick. I feel the same way about the book club I attend monthly. I never would have selected Amy Greene's Long Man, and I would have missed a beautifully written, evocative story.
In the summer of 1936, the Tennessee Valley Authority is getting ready to flood the Tennessee valley that was home to a small community. They had built a dam and bought out or moved most of the residents of Yuneetah. Even though her husband, James, has a job in Detroit where's he eager to make a better life for his small family, Annie Clyde Dodson is the sole holdout. She wants to pass the family land, as worn as it is, on to her daughter, Gracie. The TVA doesn't scare Annie Clyde. But, when three-year-old Gracie disappears one day, Annie Clyde is terrified.
And, she knows just who to blame when Sheriff Ellard Moody shows up. Amos, adopted son of the mountain midwife, Beulah, is a wanderer, a man who has traveled the country, working on roads, working on farms, stirring up trouble. Every time Amos returns to Yuneetah, there's trouble. And, Annie Clyde had found Amos in her corn field talking to Gracie before her daughter disappeared.
Greene doesn't introduce a large cast of characters, but each person is a strong individual in this powerful story of three frightening days in the life of a mother, father, and their small support network. Most of the people in Yuneetah have already moved on, and the sheriff feels the lack of townspeople who would care about the missing girl. Now, he just faces bureaucracy when he asks for help.
There are so many elements to this story of a lost community. The reader sees that the struggle for survival during the Depression and the years of flood have aged so many people before their time. Annie Clyde's aunt, Silver, a mountain woman, appears much older than her forty-four years, as does Amos. It was a tough time and a life that killed people early, as Greene shows in her stories of Annie Clyde and James' families.
Amy Greene's Long Man is the story of the river, so-called Long Man by the Cherokee. It's the story of lives the river took, the lives that depended on it, and one last story of the struggle to stay in a community built on the banks of the river.
The book may be a little more descriptive than I normally care to read. But, Greene's book is a powerful story of desperate lives, and the changes forced on one unwilling community, as shown through the life of one family.
Amy Greene's website is www.amygreeneauthor.com
Long Man by Amy Greene. Gale Cengage Learning. 2014. ISBN 9781410468420 (hardcover, LT), 451p.
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