Back Bay has republished Tony Earley's 2008 novel, and I'm wondering why. His sequel to Jim the Boy took the North Carolina mountain-dwelling Jim into his teen years and World War II. He's in love, but his sweetie "belongs" to a rich landowner's son who's fighting in the Pacific. The potential is there for a portrait of a young man, and a region, going through major changes, but Earley's self-consciously polished prose gets in the way. Earley is a good storyteller, but he writes in an overly pristine, writers' workshop-y style that keeps the reader at a distance from the story's emotional core.
Here's what I'm talking about. Someone is hoeing a cotton field, and has to go around a grave: "... it was a spot that by its nature forced me to end one thing, and momentarily step out of my way and consider, and then start something fresh on the other side; it made room inside those four rows of cotton, and the working days that held them, for a small, necessary type of hope." My question is, who the hell talks like that? The answer is: plenty of people in Earley's 1940s North Carolina hill country. The prose is too "just so," as are Jim's kin; and the picture it produces of a calm, stolid, homogenous region is sappier than North Carolina pines.
Local Note: Congratulations to Ron Chepesiuk, author and former CL contributor, who was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to lecture and research in journalism at Paramadina University in Jakarta, Indonesia, during the 2009-10 academic year. He will study the impact of the cyber revolution on the media in Indonesia and its lessons for the developing world.