Sunday, September 03, 2006

At Home in the Heart of Appalachia

Book Review - At Home in the Heart of Appalachia, by John O'Brian, 2001, Anchor Books

"The development of the book's structure was organic," said O'Brien, who earned a bachelor's degree in English from WVU in 1967. "It wasn't the product of an outline. I was struggling to define Appalachia in my writing, and when my father died, I became desperate to understand his life. The book is a crossing over of these two things."

I came across this book at a used book store while I was in Halifax earlier this summer for my art exhibition.

At Home is at once a personal story about the author's struggle with the past, his father, the idea of Appalachia - and bouts with clinical depression.....but it is also a heartfelt history of an area of America that has suffered great abuse - the land sodomized by the coal companies - good people marginalized as hillbillies and rednecks. O'Brian writes at length about the idea of Appalachia versus the reality that he sees and lives. He sees it as a land of myths and stereotypes, and his arguements are powerful. O'Brian also writes about attempts by missionaries - including contemporary groups like the Woodlands Mountain Institute to "advance mountain culture"

Mr. O'Brien's story, while located specifically and deeply in Appalachia is also very much a broader American story. The tale of people living a happy subsistance lifestyle fucked over by industrialists for the sake of a greasy buck has been repeated over and over and over. It is finally also a book about fathers and sons, and while reading this, I considered my own relationship with my father, and the events of my own childhood that would shape my adult life.

At Home in the Heart of Appalachia is a thoughtful, well-written book. On the Anchovy rating scale, I rate this one a generous handful of salties.

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