D.G. MARTIN COLUMN: Two from the east, two from the mountains — four of our best
Published 11:05 am Monday, October 28, 2019
By D.G. Martin
Two of North Carolina’s most beloved authors, Ron Rash and Charles Frazier, come from our mountain region. Two of our most promising younger writers, Jason Mott and De’Shawn Winslow, are African Americans from eastern North Carolina.
These four important writers join together in November to close the current season of UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Bookwatch.”
Growing up in a working class family in rural Columbus County, Jason Mott developed an imagination, story-telling gifts, and a flair for writing that propelled his first novel, “The Returned,” to The New York Times’ best seller-list and a television series based on the book. (11 a.m. Nov. 3 and 5 p.m. Nov. 5)
“The Returned” featured the reappearance in fully human form of people who died years ago. Mott’s ability to persuade literalists like me to suspend disbelief opened the door to my enjoying his provocative stories.
He has done it again in his latest book, “The Crossing,” a story of a teenaged narrator and her twin brother coping in a world battered by deadly disease and war.
For many of us, Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain” is a favorite novel, blending his beautiful writing with a compelling story.
From the books that followed, “Thirteen Moons” and “Nightwoods,” Frazier gained recognition as North Carolina’s most admired writer of literary fiction since Thomas Wolfe.
Now he has another book set in Civil War times, with another imaginative story of a refugee from war. This time the central character is Varina Davis, wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and until now an obscure Civil War footnote.
Through his fiction Frazier attempts to portray a true idea of Varina’s life and the times she experienced. Frazier refers to Varina as “V.”
He builds V’s story around an unusual fact. While living in Richmond as first lady of the Confederacy, she took in a young mulatto boy she called Jimmie. She raised him alongside her children. At the end of the Civil War, Union troops took the 6-year-old Jimmie away from V, and she never learned what happened to him. (Nov. 10, 12)
Ron Rash is famous for his poetry, short stories, and novels. He is perhaps best known for the best selling novel “Serena,” although some of his fans and critics say that his latest, “The Risen,” set in the mountains near Sylva, is his best.
Early in “The Risen,” in the present time, the local newspaper reports the discovery of the body of Jane Mosely, who had disappeared in the summer of 1969.
The central character, Eugene Matney, and his brother had become involved with Jane with drugs and sex. When Jane’s body is found, the boys, now grown men, become possible murder suspects. (Nov. 17, 19)
Almost all the characters in Elizabeth City native De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s debut novel, “In West Mills,” are African American, but the book’s themes are universal. (Nov. 24, 26)
West Mills is a fictional small town in eastern North Carolina, somewhere near Elizabeth City, where the author grew up.
That main character, Azalea Centre, or Knot, as she is called by everyone, has moved to West Mills to take a teaching job. Knot loves 19th century English literature. She also loves cheap moonshine and bedding a variety of men.
Two unintended pregnancies result in Knot’s having two daughters. They are adopted confidentially by local couples who name them Frances and Eunice. The girls, not knowing about their common origin, come to despise each other and fight for the attention of the same man.
On this situation, Winslow builds a series of confrontations and complications that challenge the comfortable order of the community.
I hope Bookwatch will produce a new season soon. In the meantime repeat episodes from the current season will air and give us another chance to experience these four important North Carolina authors.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs at 11 a.m. Sunday and 5 p.m. Tuesday on UNC-TV.