Before I tell you everything I loved about this book, a story and a confession.
I have loved Billy Coffey’s writing from the first page I read. And though I had only read two of his books before this one, his writing is among my favorites all time. Last month, I had the opportunity to meet him. He gave a reading at a writers’ retreat I attended in Virginia, and nearly every attendee of the retreat can tell you how I gushed and fan-girled and made an awkward fool of myself telling him and his wife how much I loved his writing. He was so kind and they were both gracious. I mentioned that I had requested his new book for review months earlier and it had never arrived. (My plan had been to buy a book from him but he didn’t bring any along.)
“You can have mine when I’m finished,” he said.
I think I gaped at him and mumbled something and then figured he’d probably forget about the offer and it would be no big deal. I’d just buy a copy anyway. But sure enough, after the reading, I approached him to tell him that I lived in Lancaster, where his mother’s side of the family is from, and he handed me the book he had just read from. I felt even more awkward as the ONLY person at the retreat with a copy of the book, so I ran to my friend’s van and stashed it in the passenger side and told not a soul except her (until now).
I finally had a chance to read it and it was worth the wait.
On to the book itself.
1. There is nothing “small” about it.
2. Don’t let the world “magic” scare you away.
I can’t properly describe how I feel about this story, or any of Coffey’s stories. Reading them often lets loose some feeling in me that I didn’t know need to be freed. It is the kind of story that leaves you feeling happy-sad because it is true. There is nothing false about this fiction.
From the naming of characters–Abel, who is not able-bodied–to the turns of phrase and the pace that make you feel like you’re smack in the middle of the mountains of Virginia, Coffey’s writing is nothing short of stunning. (I try not to exaggerate when I review books. I wish I could give this book more than five stars because it is not in the same category as other books I’ve rated five stars.)
Coffey peels away layers of the story in such a way that I was never sure where we were headed. At one point (you’ll know it when you get to it) I gasped because I had not seen it coming. Looking back, maybe I should have, but I was so drawn in by the journey of Abel, Dumb Willie and the beautiful girl on the train that I did not know. Even in the final chapters, I could not predict how it all would end.
It is a rare book that can produce so many feelings that ought to be contradictory but instead are complementary.
Coffey’s books haunt in a good way. They don’t offer simple or easy answers, and they just might challenge what you think is the way of things. You are guaranteed immersion into a mountain culture and it will be hard to walk away.
It’s been a couple of years since I read one of Coffey’s books, but I’ll be reading his other books soon.
If you’re looking for fiction that is spiritual and beautifully written, I urge you to read any one of Coffey’s books. Just be warned that the endings are not tidy and happy like you might think. But they are good and true.