Brief Commentary–Clay’s Quilt

Clay's QuiltClay’s Quilt by Silas House

A warm and deeply enjoyable first novel that makes me want to read more of House’s fiction. This novel evokes place (Appalachian Kentucky), time (the mid-1990s), people (working-class whites), and all of their associated tendencies and complications with nuance, power, and effective emotion. It’s not some nostalgic paean to the good ol’ days, but rather a serious, sober look at the hows and whys of a people in a time-and-place that unflinchingly presents this people, warts and all. Inasmuch as this is “Southern” fiction, we’d expect expressions of time and place to be paramount, and they are here. However, House’s emphasis here is on the people, and the people’s connection to one another, and how it is the people who shape place. The hollers House shows us are places his characters cannot quit not because of anything about the places themselves, but rather because these are the places where an individual finds others who have similarly survived and lived and endured those joys, pains, and feelings of the inscrutability of existence. And that last notion–the inscrutability of existence–is written across and throughout the novel, especially in how House pairs hard-drinking honky-tonking with Pentecostal religiosity. In his presentation, both of these seemingly inimical experiences and ways of life are both equally prescient means of wrestling with how little control we have over existence, with how strange and mysterious being alive is, and means of living these tensions and ambiguities in community. And it is community–people, shared life–that this novel is about, and the things that attempt to undermine and destroy it, but how resilient it is, at least in this particular time and place.

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