Events in Amy Greene’s captivating, soulful Bloodroot swirl around Myra Lamb, a pretty girl from the hills of Appalachia. This is yet another stunning debut piece from an author with superior gifts. You will get a full, rich read here, as each of a selected handful of characters narrates a first-person segment of this saga. And “saga” captures the tone perfectly – the harrowing detail of these hard-luck stories of abuse, neglect, and dissipation, and the depth of emotion call the word “epic” to mind.
Myra, very much a free-spirited girl, loses her parents when but a tot, and Byrdie, her Granny, rears her. Byrdie in her turn was also raised by her grandmother and great aunts, all of whom were blessed with some version of “the sight,” an occult ability to perceive, predict, or influence forces beyond the natural. Byrdie pursues a fairly relaxed regimen with Myra’s upbringing, having hated restrictions when she was young. She also believes Myra has the gift, but frets over the girl’s wild and willful ways.
Myra’s strong will does indeed get her into trouble. She meets the physically beautiful John Odom and must have him for herself. She even casts a spell to ensnare him, patterned after one her great-great grandmother used decades before. John turns out abusive, oppressive, and shockingly violent, the same as the rest of his creepy family. Myra and John say they are bad for each other, but it’s hard to see what Myra might have done to deserve such suffering at the hands of her husband.
The author uses a very elegant structure to capture all of this story’s threads. I’ve seen it said that writers make their readers want to go to a certain place, but shouldn’t take them there. Ms. Greene does one better. She takes her entire novel to lead her readers to a certain conclusion, only to place a very oblique, almost wistful, version of it in the very last voice we expect. The diction and speech patterns come from Appalachian hill country, and strike the perfect note, with subtle differences from character to character.
Bloodroot is such exceptional storytelling – it’s organic, it flows as the blood-red sap of the plant of the title. Its force derives not only from the harrowing and inexcusable weaknesses of its characters, but also from the subtle and inexorable pull of family and kin, for better or for worse. Be prepared to accompany and suffer with Myra, a very memorable fiction in herself, and honor and acclaim the amazing arrival of a terrific new author.