The Killing Tree
Center Street, Mar 18 2009, $13.99
Living on Crooked Top Mountain in Appalachia, recent high school graduate Mercy Heron dreams of visiting the ocean although she also understands she has no future beyond waitressing at the diner owned by kind Rusty who is interested in her. Her mom died giving birth to her and her father was never there so her grandparents raised her. Her grandpa Father Heron is a deacon who expects perfect pious behavior from her; while her grandma Mamma Rutha is a bit crazy. In fact everyone except perhaps Mercy and her best friend Della assume Father is a martyr for living with a lunatic.
Della, known for her wild ways, persuades Mercy to go to the docks where all the cool kids hang out. Mercy meets a boy her age who says he saw a fire-trout in the water. He also tells her his name is Trout. She is attracted to him, but Della warns her he is unacceptable as a mater migrant worker who harvests crops. When Mercy walks to town to buy jeans, it begins to rain and Trout gives her a lift. They find much in common and begin seeing one another though she knows Father will be irate with her transgressions just like he was with her mom.
The sense of life in Appalachia is superbly portrayed as few novels have been able to do. The lead couple seems genuine and the support staff very strong either enhancing the mountain lifestyle or the relationship between the lead couple (not necessarily in a positive way). Although the descriptions and characterizations overwhelm the limited action including the climatic suspense, readers who relish a deep sense of place through a powerful cast will want to read this keen look at Appalachia.