LONG MAN by Amy Greene

Book Quote:

“You can’t stand against a flood, Annie Clyde.”

Book Review:

Review by Poornima Apte  (FEB 25, 2014)

“You can’t stand against a flood, Annie Clyde.” Oh, yes she can. Or at least die trying. A descendant of the native Cherokees, Annie Clyde Dodson has deep-rooted connections to the land of Yuneetah, Tennessee. Long Man, the river that courses through, is tempestuous and moody but the farmers here have learned to corral its powers to make their living off the land. The Tennessee Valley Authority though, has other plans. A dam has been built upstream and in a matter of a few days, Yuneetah will be under water. Annie Clyde is one of the last holdouts. She just can’t up and leave the land which she wanted her daughter, Gracie, to know and love. And as much as her husband has plans to find factory work up north in Michigan, Annie can’t stomach the thought of a stark existence away from the natural surroundings she loves.

As Long Man opens with a setting in the immediate post-Depression era, the town is just a couple of days away from being flooded by the dam’s waters. To make things worse, a steady, heavy rain has been falling and the water levels everywhere rise slowly. Along with Annie and her daughter, Gracie, there’s Annie’s aunt, Silver Ledford, who makes her meager home on top of a high cliff overlooking the valley. Tensions are running high enough as it is; practically everyone has left town with a relocation package but Annie has just managed to show yet another TVA man, Sam Washburn, the door. She does not want to move. To make matters worse — much worse — Gracie, Annie’s daughter, disappears. Could it be the town’s bad boy, Amos, who has taken her? Or is it the equally menacing flood waters that are to blame?

Using the child’s disappearance as a driver for the story, Amy Greene movingly explores the complicated relationships between the town’s various players and also their deep and abiding respect for the land. The hardscrabble countryside comes gloriously alive in her telling and it is the most arresting aspect of Long Man.

The story itself is slow to unwind and lurches forward precariously, often coming to almost a complete halt as Greene outlines relationships and events through a series of flashbacks. While these back-and-forth movements can feel jerky and disorienting, the pace picks up eventually — it is interesting to note that the tension builds slowly along with the rising floodwaters. It’s almost as if Greene were working consciously to have the book’s tempo increase gradually with the drama of the plotline.

While farming itself can be a challenge (one which Greene points out well), Long Man occasionally lapses into too much starry-eyed worship of the vocation’s faithfuls. The romantic visions that Annie Clyde has seem overwrought at times: “She didn’t understand the power company’s reasoning. She didn’t need electric lights when she could see by the sun and moon. She had the spring and the earth to keep her food from spoiling…if a person didn’t come to depend on material things, it wouldn’t hurt to lose them.”

Where Long Man does succeed, is in showing how even the fiercest of people have weak spots that can be chipped away at and weathered over time. The ties that bind can take various shapes and forms and lend themselves to fluidity. Not many can hold their ground when it comes to a rising and powerful flood — whether that change takes the form of raging waters or technical progress. As Greene writes: “The dam would stand in memory, but not of their individual lives. Only of a moment in history.” Even that, you soon realize, is more than what most of us can hope for.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0 from 12 readers
PUBLISHER: Knopf (February 25, 2014)
REVIEWER: Poornima Apte
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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February 25, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Facing History, Reading Guide, Theme driven, US South

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