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Over The Plain Houses by Julia Franks

Irenie Lambey has nightly excursions, where she walks to secret places that she over the plain housesremembers from childhood and hides keepsakes.  It’s her only solace away from her overbearing husband Brodis, a firebrand preacher whose views of women in the home are traditional.  Traditional, that is, for the small mountain community of Eakin in 1939.

Things are changing, though, with the introduction of outside industries.  The USDA also sets up an office in town.  Irenie meets Virginia Furman, who works for the USDA, teaching classes on homemaking.  Irenie is amazed at Virginia’s assertiveness and independence, and a friendship develops.

Brodis discovers Irenie’s night time absences and thinks that supernatural forces are at play.  A confrontation with her reveals a violent streak in Brodis, and Irenie becomes equally leery of him as well – enough to leave him, but they have a teenage son to think about, although he’s thankfully away at a boarding school in Asheville.

Over The Plain Houses is a promising debut.  The territory Franks covers isn’t new; if you are a reader of Ron Rash or Amy Greene, the places she evokes will be familiar.  But if you like fiction about the Appalachians, this one is worth your while; the author is a fresh voice in books of this genre.  Pair up this one with Greene’s Long Man or Rash’s Serena and you can’t go wrong.

Franks creates a convincing world, that of the clash between the older ways of the North Carolina mountains and the industries (logging, the railroad, etc.) that transformed local lives and were often detrimental to the natural world there.  She also captures the spookiness of the mountains, and how one’s imagination could run wild on a night time ramble.

(William Hicks, Information Services)




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