Most definitely the first thing you notice about the novel "Bloodroot" is that gorgeous cover. Having seen it dozens of times at the bookstore, it is still impossible for me to walk by it and not touch the cover. But I first heard about this book when it was reviewed in Entertainment Weekly when it first came out nearly a year and a half ago. It immediately went up on my list, but was only when my Skype book club assigned it as the June read did I snap up the audio. (Unfortunately I will be out of the country for this meeting, but that didn't stop me from reading it.)
Synopsis: High up in the Tennessee Smokies, on Bloodroot Mountain, lives a community of poor simple folk. They are of the land, and most rarely leave the place which they, and generations before them, were born and raised. Others yearn to leave, and some of them do, but they always return. At the center of this story is the Lamb family, whose hopes and dreams rest upon the shoulders of the young and beautiful Myra. The family has been filled with tragedy and a legendary curse, which has left Myra parentless, and raised by her grandmother Byrdie. On Bloodroot Mountain, the children live a hard life and grow up before their time, and Myra's destiny seems to have been determined the day she was born. Her downfall begins the moment she sets eyes on John Odom.
The story of Myra is told by the people surrounding her over a period of decades...by her grandmother Byrdie, an awkward neighbor boy in love with Myra, and Myra's twin children Johnny and Laura, all of them building the legend and myth of her. Myra has a special magic, possibly handed down from earlier generations, she is beautiful and innocent, she is negligent and insane, she is damaged and afraid. We are filled with more questions than answers with these stories. What went wrong with Myra's marriage to John? When John disappeared, what happened to him? It is only at the end of the book, when we hear from Myra herself, that we get our answers.
Greene also fills in the gaps to make this ultimately a multi-generation family saga about the cycle of abuse, dysfunction and acceptance of fate that beleaguers those that live in Appalachia. She also provides a tiny sliver of hope that it may not be impossible to break the cycle, given the will and faith and determination.
My thoughts: In the hands of another author, this story had the potential to be a huge buzz-kill. The circumstances of those living in this corner of Appalachia is dire. Homes no more than shacks without the benefit of indoor plumbing, feral unschooled children running wild, domestic abuse, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy...this was the fate of everyone born on Bloodroot Mountain. A fate accepted with weary resignation.
And while it was tough to stomach this lifestyle, Greene distracts the reader with beautiful but conversational prose that hypnotized me. She also has structured her storytelling by allowing various narrators, starting in an outer circle around Myra Lamb and moving inward, to build tension. It's like hearing about a person from a good friend for years and years, then when you finally meet the person, they are larger than life. By the time we actually meet Myra, she is almost mystical. We have learned to care about her through the eyes of those that love her. We know that life has gone very wrong for Myra, and by the end of the book, I was nervous and anxious to get her side of the truth.
The plot did have a tendency to wander off the beaten path. Don't get me wrong, it was never boring. There's too much filth and sadness for it to be boring. It just got off-topic, and delved into the lives of those surrounding Myra.
I do have to mention that in the second part of the book, when the narrators change to Myra's kids, Johnny and Laura, I had NO IDEA who the hell was talking for a whole disc. Johnny? You mean Myra's husband? Who? I figured it out, but I had to wonder if this was an audio problem, or if it was equally as confusing in print.
A word about the audio production: 99 out of 100 times, if an audio has multiple narrators, it is going to be a home run. I've seen this with "Testimony", "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" and "Let the Great World Spin". This was also the case with "Bloodroot". There were six narrators in all, one for each of the narrators in the book. Each voice was cast perfect for the character, whether it be for and old mountain woman or a young teenage roughneck. This, along with Greene's writing and story structure, contributed to make this audio an absolute "must listen".
4.5 out of 5 stars