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Bloodroot

by Amy Greene
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Knopf
  • Publishing date: 12/01/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780307269867
  • ISBN: 0307269868

Synopsis

Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2010: Bloodroot is that rare sort of family saga that feels intimate instead of epic. Set in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, it’s told largely in tandem voices that keep watchful eyes on Myra Lamb. She is a child of the mountain, tied to the land in ways that mystify and enchant those around her. There’s magic to Myra--perhaps because she has the remarkable blue eyes foretold by a nearly-forgotten family curse--but little fantasy to her life. Bloodroot is as much about the Lambs as it is about a place, one that becomes ever more vivid as generations form, break free, and knit back together. Its characters speak plainly but true, they are resilient and flawed and beautiful, and there's a near-instant empathy in reading their stories, which--even in their most visceral moments--are alluring and wonderful. --Anne Bartholomew

A Q&A with Amy Greene

Question: You’ve lived all your life in East Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, a part of the country you depict vividly in Bloodroot. How did you imbue a familiar place with such detail and even magic? What was it like to put the language you’d heard all your life into words on the page, as dialogue?

Amy Greene: There is, I think, an intimacy with the landscape that comes with living here. Most of my childhood was spent outdoors, a part of my experience that emerges naturally in my writing. Bringing the language I’ve heard all my life to the page also came easily. It was instinctive to appropriate the voices of my family, friends and neighbors for the characters I was exploring in Bloodroot. The challenge was actually in dialing back the language once I had poured it onto the page, making it accessible to people who aren’t familiar with these expressions and colloquialisms.

Question: Six different character--men and women, old and young--narrate Bloodroot. Which characters or voices came to you first? Who was the most difficult to write, and who was the easiest? Did you have any particular people in your own life in mind when you came up with these characters originally? How did you invent the totally unique Ford Hendrix?

Amy Greene: I envisioned Johnny and Laura first, not as children but as young adults. I considered writing a short story about them, but realized I wanted to know more than I could learn about their lives within a few pages. I found myself creating a past for them, going back in time before their birth to discover what had brought them to such a dark place. Their great-grandmother, Byrdie, was the easiest character to write. She hasn’t changed much since the first draft of Bloodroot, probably because I’ve been surrounded and raised by women like her, my mom and my aunts and the ladies I went to church with. I was interested in exploring, through Byrdie, the stories I’d heard from them about life in Appalachia during the Depression. John Odom was hardest to write. It was difficult to show all his dimensions and his conflicting emotions--to portray him not just as a villain but also as a tortured soul. I struggled to make it believable that, at least in his own mind, it was possible for John to love Myra and at the same time, to hurt her. With Ford, I wanted Johnny to have the father figure he was searching for, but the first character I created to fit that role became uninspiring to me. I knew he wasn’t working, so I scrapped what I had written and began to imagine a character I wouldn’t grow tired of, one who would intrigue Johnny and me both enough to follow him a long way. The intriguing figure I ended up with was Ford Hendrix.

Question: Bloodroot takes place across four generations, from the Great Depression to the present-day. At times there’s a sociological aspect to your depiction of life in Appalachia--the poverty some families struggle with for years, the development of the land. But in some ways the story you’ve told seems out of time--we don’t see politics or computers, for instance. Did you consciously weave social issues into the novel? How isolated is this area of the country, and how has that changed over time? To your mind, what role does history and the passage of time play in this family story?

Amy Greene: I didn’t think about "sociology," especially not at first. I concentrated primarily on storytelling, and building the lives of the characters. For the most part, I kept the wider world out of the picture, partly to preserve the dreamlike quality I wanted to achieve with the writing, and also to portray the sense of isolation that comes with living in Appalachia. Often the passage of time and what’s going on outside the mountains has little impact on life here. People still grow and can their own food, get their water from wells and springs, use wood and coal for heat. There’s a feeling of separateness from the rest of the country. But as I wrote deeper into the characters, the outside world began seeping into their stories with the progression of time. In successive drafts I was able to add another layer to Bloodroot by expanding those moments already present in the narrative that addressed social issues, such as the poverty that persists in parts of Appalachia. Although the quality of life has improved here over the last few decades, there are still areas where lack of education, job training, and access to public services makes life difficult. I also thought about the possibility of hopelessness as a kind of legacy, generation after generation accepting destitution as their lot in life because it’s all they’ve ever known. But while history and the passage of time do play important roles in this story, the familial bond of the characters mattered more to me. It transcends the changing world around them--the landscape changes, their circumstances change, people move in and out of their lives. But their blood ties are permanent.

Question: Magic and mysticism run throughout the book--there are "granny women" who are like witches; spells and potions, including a visceral scene where a young woman swallows a chicken heart to make a man fall in love with her; and a special connection with animals, called "the touch," that is passed down in the family. How did these supernatural elements make their way into a story that often feels very true-to-life? Growing up, had you heard any similar legends? Does this type of folk magic--healing or curses or anything else--still hold weight for people?

Amy Greene: I’ve always seen Appalachia as a magical place. I grew up hearing stories of haints and fortunetellers and curses. One of my favorite scenes in Bloodroot to write, where Clifford blows healing wind down Byrdie’s throat, is based on a story my dad tells of his mother taking his baby sister to a neighbor man who cured her thrush the same way. My mom had an aunt who took off her warts by rubbing a stone in a circle around each one and then throwing the stones away. This kind of folk magic still holds weight here because, for whatever reason, people see tangible results from the practice of it. The thrush clears up, the warts fall off, and so they keep believing.

(Photo © Amy Smotherman Burgess)



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  • Incredibly engaging -- couldn't put it down
    From Amazon

    It is such a rare pleasure to discover a book that just captures me from the first page, and keeps me captivated all the way to the end. And for the book to be by a never-heard-of-before author, the pleasure is even more rare. That is exactly the reading experience I had with Bloodroot. Set in the Appalachian region of Tennessee, Bloodroot is the story of several generations of a family, stretching in time from approximately 1913 to the present. There are several different narrators who each tell their part of the story in the first person, and every one of their voices is filled with the cadence, the feel, the mood of the rural hills of Tennessee. It is like listening to an old storyteller while sitting around a campfire. I don't want to give anything away, so I will just say that the focus of the novel is Myra Lamb. She grows up in a family full of the superstition and folklore of Appalachia, and with more than its share of tragedy. In fact, the only criticism I have of the book -- and it's really not a criticism so much as a skepticism -- is that there seemed to be an overdose of superstition/mysticism. Every other person seemed to be given to visions, some strange empathic spirit, seeing haints, or even "curses." It just felt like too much. But then, I've never been to Appalachia or known anyone who lived there, so maybe every other person really does have some sort of second sight? What I liked best about this book -- aside from the lyrical storytelling -- was that Greene never descended into the sordid or disturbing. There are no sex scenes and very little profanity. Myra's family was full of tragedy, and she married into a family that was plain evil, and yet Greene conveyed all of this without ever getting creepy or graphic. She writes in such a way that the reader gets the picture, even without it being spelled out in disturbing detail. Bloodroot is not a happy tale, although Greene does end it on a surprisingly hopeful note. There is a degree of redemption that is unexpected but pleasing. I highly recommend this book; it was incredibly well-written and captivating. I hope to see more by Amy Greene.

  • Bloodroot
    From Amazon

    I loved how this book gives the reader the experience of the East TN mountains. However, I thought most of the book was very dark...too much so for my taste. There's a lot of good to be had when growing up in the Smokies too. I wish we wouldn't prolong this backwards/ southern stereotype.

  • A quick summer read
    From Amazon

    If you are looking for a good book to beat the heat with, Bloodroot is a great pick. Sure it's filled with tragedy, every good story needs a bit of affliction. The novel did not seem overly depressing, and I really loved the ending. I enjoyed how the story played out over the generations of characters. I thought that the characters were all very well written. The descriptions were beautiful, truly depicting life on Appalachia mountain life. My only complaint is that I would have loved for there to be another section of the book following the twins and baby Sunny!

  • I was mesmerized
    From Amazon

    I'm not exactly sure why I loved this book so much. It drew me in from the very beginning and grabbed me until I finished. Such a heartbreaking generational saga definitely transported me to rural appalachia. It shows how the sins of the parents are visited on the innocent children and they live on to repeat the cycle. I loved how the story was told from several different viewpoints and different timeframes weaving all the connections together. Fans of The Glass Castle will love this. Very highly recommended!

  • hauntingly good
    From Amazon

    I picked this from the Vine program to read and review, but once the book came in I realized the reviewers were from writers that I've read before, but are not the normal books I read. So I put it aside and did not pick it up to over a month later. I prefer fantasy and happy endings. Although, I've read realistic, crime, etc. before, my book readings are my escape. The book does contain mystism, but it mostly focuses on the relationship of a family over four generations. This family is "cursed." They loose their children, husbands, etc. They battle poverty and rumors. It was very depressing. What was good about this book was the vividness of the characters drawn. The book is separated into four parts. Each written in first person. The first part is the grandmother and Doug telling their life stories and how it revolves around Myra. The grandaughter and love of Doug's life. Myra is a person that is magical in their eyes and free. They can't seem to grasp her no matter how long or how hard they tried. The second part of the book skips eight years and tells the story of Johnny and Laura...Myra's twin children. The telling of their lives is just too depressing to even get into. Yet, they too bring something into the story, and that is a mystery...What happened to their father? The third part is Myra. She coveres the lost eight years. Again, very depressing. Some answers are answered and lives are intertwined unexpectedly. Yet, again, their are answers unanswered. Lastly, is a short chapter told by John, Myra's husband. Even though his story helps to bring the story to a close, there are still strings left hanging. The reader never knows the complete story of what happened to these people, but has an idea that things will work themselves out in the end. Like I said, the characters were very vivid. You can hear their "voice" speaking to you and the reader can almost feel their pain. It was very well written, but I believe it would attract a certain type of reader that enjoys this type of storytelling. This would not be MY first choice of reading. Although, I did enjoy it.

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