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The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
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“A page-turner.” — New York Times Book Review
For readers of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, this is a dramatic and deeply moving novel about an act of violence in a small Appalachian town and the repercussions that will forever change a young man’s view of human cruelty and compassion.
After seeing the death of his younger brother in a terrible home accident, fourteen-year-old Kevin and his grieving mother are sent for the summer to live with Kevin’s grandfather. In this town of Medgar, Kentucky, a peeled-paint coal town deep in Appalachia, Kevin quickly falls in with a half-wild hollow kid named Buzzy Fink who schools him in the mysteries and magnificence of the woods.
The town is beset by a massive mountaintop removal operation that is blowing up the hills and back filling the hollows. Kevin’s grandfather and others in town attempt to rally the citizens against the “company” and its powerful owner to stop the plunder of their mountain heritage. But when Buzzy witnesses a brutal hate crime, a sequence is set in play that will test Buzzy and Kevin to their absolute limits in an epic struggle for survival in the Kentucky mountains.
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
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It was always coal.
Coal filled their pantry and put a sense of purpose in their Monday coffee. Coal was Christmas and the long weekend in Nashville when the Opry offered half-price tickets. Coal was new corduroy slacks and the washboard symphony they played to every step. Coal was a twice-a-month haircut. Coal was a store-bought dress and the excuse to wear it. Coal took them in as teenagers, proud, cocksure, and gave them back fully played out. Withered and silent.
Coal was the double-wide trailer at twenty and the new truck. Coal was the house with the front porch at twenty-eight and the satellite dish. Coal was the bass boat at thirty-five and the fishing cabin at forty.
And then, after they gave their years to the weak light and black sweat, coal killed them.
And began again.
THE DIAMOND STATE
The Appalachian Mountains rise a darker blue on the washed horizon if you're driving east from Indiana in the morning. The green hills of the piedmont brace the wooded peaks like sandbags against a rising tide. The first settlers were hunters, trappers, and then farmers when the game went west. In between the hills and mountains are long, narrow hollows where farmers and cattle scratch a living with equal frustration. And under them, from the Tug Fork to the Clinch Valley, a thick plate of the purest bituminous coal on the Eastern Seaboard.
June was midway to my fifteenth birthday and I remember the miles between Redhill, Indiana, and Medgar, Kentucky, rolling past the station wagon window on an interminable canvas of cornfields and cow pastures, petty towns and irrelevant truck stops. I remember watching my mother from the backseat as she stared at the telephone poles flishing past us, the reflection of the white highway line in the window strobing her haggard face. It had been two months since my brother, Joshua, was killed, and the invulnerability I had felt as a teenager was only a curl of memory. Mom had folded into herself on the way back from the hospital and had barely spoken since. My father emerged from silent disbelief and was diligently weaving his anger into a smothering blanket for everyone he touched, especially me. My life then was an inventory of eggshells and expectations unmet.
Pops, my maternal grandfather, suggested Mom and I spend the summer with him in the hope that memories of her own invulnerable childhood would help her heal. It was one of the few decisions on which my father and grandfather had ever agreed.
The town was positioned in a narrow valley between three sizable mountains and innumerable hills and shelves and finger hollows that ribboned out from the valley floor like veins.
We had not visited Pops since Josh was born three years before, and as we came over the last hill, down into Medgar on that Saturday, the citizens stared at us like they were watching color TV for the first time. A fat woman in red stretch pants dragging a screaming child stopped suddenly; the child jounced into her back. Two men in eager discussion over an open car hood turned in silence, hands on hips. Booth four at Biddle's Gas and Grub immediately discontinued their debate about proper planting cycles and launched wild speculation about the origin and destination of the blue station wagon with suitcases and a bike bundled onto the luggage rack. People just didn't move into eastern Kentucky back then.
Twenty-two Chisold Street sat straight and firm behind the faded white fence that aproned its quarter acre. The front porch was wide and friendly, with an old swing bench at one end, a green wicker sofa and chairs at the other. The house was a three-bedroom Southern Cape Cod with white pillars on the porch, double dormers jutting out of the roof like eyes. One broken blind closed in a perpetual wink. The yard was trim and perfect.
We drew up in the wagon, a thin smile on my mother's face for the first time in months. My father touched her arm gently to tell her she was home.
Pops had been vigiling on the wicker sofa, chewing the end of the long, straight pipe he never lit. He slapped both knees, bellowing an abundant laugh as he raced down the porch steps before the car was even at a full stop. He reached in the window to unlock the door, opened it as the engine cut off, and pulled Mom out of the front seat into a bracing hug. "It's good to have you back home, Annie."
She nodded blankly and hugged back.
I exited the car with my backpack of essentials. "Kevin, I think you've grown six inches in two months," he said, fingering a line from the top of his head to my chin. He bear-hugged me, then gave my shoulder a squeeze. The strength in his grip left me flushed. He spun to Audy Rae, his housekeeper of thirty-seven years, who had come out to the porch. "It's about time we had some life in this old house. The conversation has been wearing thin lately." He turned back to me and winked. She dismissed him with a wave, swept down the steps and over to the car.
Audy Rae Henderson was five feet four and fireplug solid, her face furrowed with wise creases and unmissing eyes that burned brightly from her dark features. She reached up and placed a hand on each of Mom's shoulders and held her at arm's length as if to verify authenticity.
My father came around to the passenger side and stood until Pops acknowledged him. "Edward, how are you?" Pops asked. They shook stiff hands.
The inside of Pops' Chisold Street home was sparkling clean—Audy Rae saw to that—but to me it smelled old and empty. In the living room, two matching wing chairs with eagle-claw feet and brass buttons tacked down the front faced a worn light-blue sofa with doilied arms. Three of my mother's paintings hung over it: a man canoeing on a river; wild horses splitting a canyon; the Chisold Street house sometime in the sixties. The room was alien and unused, but anything was better than the throttling silence of our house in Redhill.
Audy Rae led me up to the spare bedroom. "Bet you're glad to be done with freshman year," she said, helping the bag onto the bed. I grunted and slumped next to the suitcase.
"High school, my laws. I remember when you was no biggern my knee and now you're taller than your Pops."
I was silent, examining the way my interlocking fingers roofed my thumbs.
She came over and sat next to me. "Kevin, you and your mom been through a bad thing—bout as bad as life gets. I know it's gonna take a while for her and you to heal."
"He blames me, you know. Says it was all my fault."
She let out a long, slow breath.
A tear dropped down and splashed my hand.
"What happened wasn't your fault, child," she said softly.
"But if I'd…" The sadness and choking anger of the last two months began to close out the thin light in the room.
She put her hand on my leg. I could feel her eyes peering into me. "It all may seem black and desperate now, but you gotta just trust that the Lord's gonna take care of you and your mom."
I pulled at a stray thread from the white cotton bedspread as more tears came. "If he was taking care of us, none of this would have happened in the first place."
She pushed out another long breath, then let it fall away. "Kevin, I can't say why the Lord took Josh and why he took him the way he did. I don't think we'll ever puzzle out the answer. But I'll just keep praying that one day you'll find a peace with it." She stood and moved to the door. "I'll leave you to be putting your own things away."
I finally looked up. She smiled. "It's real good to have you here, child." Her face was filled with fifty-three years of stocked kindnesses. I smiled sadly back.
She held out her hands. "Come to me, honey." I pushed off the bed and took three quick steps into the cradle of her arms. She wrapped them around me tightly and squeezed, as if to try to turn me into a diamond.
Monongahela Mining Company opened its first mine in 1912 on the gentle shoulders and under the stretching peaks that surround Medgar, Kentucky. Mr. William Beecher Boyd himself drove down in his brand-new automobile to supervise the acquisition of the land after a survey team from Wheeling pulled core samples so thick and pure they made his heart race.
The citizens were roundly suspicious of William Beecher Boyd, seeing as he was from Pennsylvania, and his car caused a considerable disturbance. Story goes, he entered Missiwatchiwie County through Knuckle, and by the time he passed Jukes Hollow, he and his top-down Model T, with its shiny black paint and headlights that looked to folks like the bug eyes of a birth-defected bovine, were trailed by a raggle of shoeless children, eight of the county's laziest farmers, three Negroes, assorted dogs, and seven cattle. Dogs running ahead, barking, and boys fighting for position as each passing farm added to the entourage.
Word spread faster than the Model T, and by the time the car worked itself up the last hill before town, most of Medgar had already changed clothes and assembled outside of Hivey's Farm Supply. Women in their Sunday hats, men with fresh pork fat in their hair.
Boyd parked the car at the hitching post in front of Hivey's, jumped onto the car's red backseat, and stood stock-still, one foot on the spare tire, both hands on his knee, and said nothing. Absolutely nothing.
It was the kind of thirty-second silence that made some men look at their shoes and kick stones. Others rubbed their Adam's apples wondering if they should be the first. Women fanned themselves faster and even the children stopped pushing, everyone silent in suspicious anticipation.
William Beecher Boyd smiled, then cleared his throat. "Friends," he said, "you've a fine town here. A fine town."
William Beecher Boyd's Monongahela Mining Company started first on the north side of Hogsback Mountain with Juliet One driving true into the heart of what came to be known as the Medgar seam. Juliet Two and Three followed hard by, and people after that—like a rock thrown on a lake in the morning, sending out ripples in unstoppable waves.
Lew Chainey was the first to sell, then John van Slyke, then Mrs. Simpson. The surrounding fields suddenly became the town, with bright black asphalt instead of dirt and mud, new pine-board and shingle houses instead of struggling corn. A bank, another church, and two more blacksmiths took Medgar into 1917, all courtesy of William Beecher Boyd and the Monongahela Mining Company.
The 1920s saw Medgar grow to two thousand people in the finger valley between the Hogsback and White Mountain. A school, a jail, traffic.
The Depression came and went like an unfamiliar cousin. Depression or not, people still burned coal and Medgar still dug it because the Monongahela Mining Company made it so.
The opening of Miss Janey's Paris Hair Salon and Notion Shop in 1965 brought Missiwatchiwie County into the modern age. Miss Janey's cousin and partner, Paul Pierce, spent two years of military duty as first tenor in the Army Band and Chorus, culminating with a weekend stint in a muddy tent on the outskirts of Paris, which, when he was back in Medgar, conveyed him instant credibility on all questions of fashion and style and made Miss Janey's an immediate success.
The next decades were Patsy Cline singing on the radio in the afternoon and thick chrome shining on Saturday night. Crew cuts close and tight to the neck and white cement sidewalks too new to spit; television antennae like Easter crocuses breaking through the last mutter of snow. Band concerts and communists and tea dances with the Medgar Women's Club. JFK, Alan Shepard, Bay of Pigs, and a second bank. Negro rights, the Tet Offensive, Martin Luther King, RFK, and Miss Janey's addition. Nixon/Agnew, Walter Cronkite, George Jones, the Apollo moon landing, and an Italian restaurant. Kent State, Gerald Ford, the Statler Brothers, Jimmy Carter, and the mines. Always the mines.
Until 1978, when they extracted the last ton from the Medgar seam and most miners followed the work south, leaving a peeled-paint husk of a place with fewer than seven hundred inhabitants. The once-thriving west side of Medgar, with its Italian restaurant and theater, was shut completely. A strip of businesses still clung to the frayed Main Street: Smith's Ice Cream, Hivey's Farm Supply, Biddle's Gas and Grub, the Monongahela Bank and Trust, Dempsey's General Store, and, of course, Miss Janey's Paris Hair Salon and Notion Shop.
Before the breakfast dishes were cleared my father talked of getting a jump on the highway truck traffic, talked of garage organizing and critical toolshed repairs.
"Let me put these sticky buns in some Tupperware for you," Audy Rae said.
"Nope, I'll just take this one to go." He grabbed the center bun and poured coffee into a travel mug. "Call you when I get home, sport," he said as the screen door creaked and slammed on his exit.
With him gone I immediately began exploring Medgar and the surrounding mountains in expanding circles from my base on the front porch of 22 Chisold Street—a seething, spinning fury in my head and a pack of matches in my pocket.
On the first saddle of mountain outside of town, I gathered up a knee-high pile of tinder-dry leaves and threw a lit match into it. A pencil of smoke rose from the middle, then dissipated as the flames took. A moderate wind fed the fire and I watched impassively as the flames shot up three feet, consumed the fuel, then settled into smoldering embers. I wanted to feel something other than the stifling sadness and rage that had overcome me these past two months—guilt, excitement, brio, embarrassment, anything—but even the heat of the flame failed to penetrate.
I had started with fires in Redhill about a month after Josh died: first a small trash can in the backyard, then a pile of dried grass clippings in the woods behind my house; a stack of deadfall at a construction site, then three tires at the town dump; a few other minor lights around Redhill, until I set an old wooden shed ablaze on city park property. That one brought out fire engines, police cars, crime scene investigators, but nothing from me.
Farther up the mountain I pulled together another pile of leaves, larger this time, and finally felt the heat of the flames as they licked at the low branches of a maple sapling. Then two more fires, each bigger than before.
And so it was my first week in Medgar—a Dumpster fire in back of Hivey's Farm Supply; a grass fire on a clear hillside that got taken by the wind and nearly lost control; an old foam car seat that burned ugly black smoke and stung my lungs when the wind shifted.
It was on one of these burnings that I first met Buzzy Fink.
WHAT HORSES SMELL LIKE AFTER RAIN
Buzzy Fink's toenail collection, by the time I arrived in town, filled half an old Band-Aid tin. His showpiece was a full big toenail, cracked and yellowed, with tailings of cuticle still attached. Found it on a rock in the middle of Chainey Creek after a summer squall—brown water racing and the big old nail just staring at him like Sunday.
The original owner of the nail was a topic of much debate in the Fink clan. Esmer Fink, Buzzy's grandfather, was sure it came from one of the Deal sisters. Identical twins, the Deal sisters: never married, bitter, lonely. He'd noticed Ethna Deal limping past the closeout bin at Pic-n-Pay the week before the discovery, and he'd seen the sisters down at Chainey Creek with their socks off. It was Ethna's; he was sure of it.
Isak Fink, Buzzy's father, knew Ethna had nothing to do with the toenail. Besides, the Deal sisters always limped. He reasoned, with some support in the family, that the original owner was an old miner named Mose Bleeker who disappeared during the storm and supposedly drowned drunk in Chainey Creek. Buzzy subscribed to this theory because it greatly raised the currency of his find: possessing the only remaining piece of a dead man was something to boast about.
Buzzy's brother, Cleo, boycotted the entire discussion, believing that he was the rightful custodian of the nail. He was with Buzzy at the time of the discovery and thought that as the older brother he should take ownership. He was jealous of the attention Buzzy received and was half-lovesick over Jemma Blatt. Jemma's interest in the toenail only made matters worse.
The only member of the family without an opinion on the nail's origin or its rightful conservator was Buzzy's mother, who believed the big toenail, and indeed his entire collection, would be the undoing of her youngest son. "A boy what keeps parts a people gonna come to a bad end," she predicted into her black soup. "It jus ain't natural."
The debate eventually waned, unresolved, and the toenail remained at the top of Buzzy's collection, brought out like his aunt Pip for special occasions. My first meeting with him was just such an occasion.
"Tie a slug to that spider bite; it'll stop the swell. Gotta be a gray one, though. Brown ones make it worse."
I was lying on the ground in the hills outside town, prostrate in pain after a red spider had got under my shirt and bit me on the stomach. My feet were against a giant oak tree and I was debating how best to apply my life's remaining hours. I thought of running back to Chisold Street and crawling up to the porch and in my final breath telling Mom not to grieve too deeply; then I would die in her arms. But I was at least two miles from Pops' house and the run back would only rush the venom to my brain. I finally decided to burn an abandoned coal tipple I had seen over the last hill when the voice filtered down from somewhere in the giant tree.
"I'm outta slugs right now, but down the creek there's plenty. An don't try cheatin it with a worm. Gotta be a slug… a gray one."
I gazed up at the gigantic trunk, thirty feet around, branches fostering a great green canopy in every direction. Three limbs up, through the bark and leaves, a boy about my age was smoking a cigarette and reading a dirty magazine. The rippled black soles of his army surplus boots dangled over the tree limb. He threw the naked lady down by my head and quickly worked the forty-foot drop, landing on the ground a few seconds after the magazine. He squatted, knees to ears like a bushman breaking cane, slowly weaving back and forth across the ground in a rhythmic search for something.
"Here she is," he said, pulling the curled carcass of the spider from the leaves. He held it between his thumb and forefinger. "It weren't deadly poisonous, but you'll feel it for a few days less we get you that slug… Name's Buzzy Fink."
Buzzy Fink was a head taller than me and half again as broad, with sandy blond hair cut in a flattop on an already thickening neck. Eyes so blue they made the rest of his face seem freshly washed. A spread of freckles across both cheeks met at his nose; his big white teeth, gapped in the middle, flashed pink tongue when he smiled.
"You're the Peebles kid," he said as a point of fact.
"My grandfather's Arthur Peebles."
"Let's you an me get you that slug."
I followed Buzzy close, feeling the expanding numbness around the bite. He strode to the edge of the wooded plateau and plunged straight down the steep, rocky bank to the creek some hundred feet below. I was lagging off, employing saplings as ropes, sliding down the bank on my butt, thankful for finally finding a kid to do stuff with. When I reached the bottom, Buzzy was already under his fourth rock—a few red salamanders, armies of pill bugs, but no gray slugs.
"Here you go," he said after rock five, extracting a gleaming slug twice as big as my thumb. "This'll do you." He stepped over the rocks and slapped the slug into my hand. "I got some duct tape up the tree. We'll make a poultice an tape it up. You'll be jus fine."
He was off again, long, sturdy legs making easy work of the slippery bank. I made after him, trying desperately not to smash such a serviceable specimen. At the tree he took the slug and climbed up one-handed, feet on knobs, hands on bark. Three branches later he was lighting a cigarette in a red pine rocker on the front porch of an impressive tree house. The house nested in the middle branches of the colossal oak at a point where the main trunk divided, providing a perfect platform for the structure. Shingle roof, pane window, plywood walls, and a front porch. A blue door.
I started up the trunk, echoing the nubs and bobs that Buzzy used to earn the first branch, my foot slipping, stomach scraping bloody against the bark.
"What's the matter, Kevin Gillooly, don't you have trees in In-de-anna?" Smoke punctuated each of his laughs.
I finally made it to the first branch and onto the front porch of the tree house, where I could see the whole town, the hollows and the remnants of the old mines on the Hogsback. As I scanned the horizon, something seemed out of place. The silhouette of the mountains over by the Hogsback was strangely malformed, as if some giant had cut off the peaks, leaving a flat gray table. Buzzy was still sitting, enjoying his cigarette. The sound of a massive explosion reached us, muted like distant thunder, but shorter, sharper, and inconsistent with the perfect sky above.
"What was that?
"Big-ass explosion," he said between puffs.
"From what? Do you think anybody's hurt?"
"It's how they mine now. Blow the tops off an dig at it from above." He stood, put out the cigarette carefully on the underarm of the rocker, and flicked it into a dirt-filled coffee can, then went inside, rummaging for duct tape. He reappeared a minute later, tape and slug in hand. He gave me the slug, added a sprinkle of porch dirt, and spat into my hand. He screeched out two feet of duct tape. "Slap the slug on the bite and hold it there." He readied the duct tape for application. "Now take your hand away." I did and Buzzy quickly covered the slug with tape. "Leave it there for a day an you'll be okay."
I could feel the cool slug squirming against my skin and watched its outline in the tape, moving like a puppy under a rug. Buzzy offered me a cigarette.
I sat on the porch deck next to him, trying to look practiced as I lit the end and pulled the first raging drag, holding in a cough with my life.
After a while Buzzy said, "I seen you come into town last week."
"We're living with my grandfather, me and my mom are. My father went back to Indiana because of work. He's a lawyer."
"Heard your momma's gone crazy cause your little brother died," he said, looking hard at me.
"She's taking it kind of bad." I avoided his gaze.
"Is that why you been lightin them fires?"
I froze. "What do you mean?"
"I mean is that why you been lightin them fires?"
"Uhhhhh…" I looked down into the tree-house porch floor at an empty acorn top.
"You don't need to be doin that no more," he said before I could muster even a lame reply.
"I was just bored," I said, eyes still on the acorn top. Finally I looked up.
He was staring straight into me. "You don't need to be doin that no more," he said again—softer this time.
I nodded, then looked out over the town.
"How'd he die?" he asked after a time.
"Hit by a car," I lied.
"My brother Cleo coulda died when he was a kid. But he jus broke both legs instead."
"How did he do that?" I was eager to change the subject.
"Fell off the barn roof. Climbed up there to get this airplane he carved."
"Is he older or younger than you?"
"Older; he's seventeen. Gonna be a senior this year. Bad-ass football player. Third-team All-American QB last year. Broke the state passing record again," Buzzy said proudly. His face came alive at the talk of his older brother. "Lets me train with him, most times. Shaggin balls an stuff. Man, he is a machine—probably gonna go pro."
"That's cool," I said and looked back over at the line of lopped-off mountains, hoping to shake thoughts of the brother that Josh would have grown into. Buzzy went on about Cleo's college and pro prospects, and gradually the sad wonderings and guilt about Josh folded back into a dark closet of memory.
We stayed there, in the tree, on the porch, talking about everything all afternoon. The way toenails go hard after they've been clipped; the way dust clings to spiderwebs like dew; spit and the specks that float in your eye when you look at the sun a certain way; scorpions and Hissy Pillsucker, who would strip to her underwear for twenty-five cents; breasts and moles with hair, and Chucky Dingle, who had only one nipple. How wood feels in your hands when it's wet; how to carve a whistle from green willow; what the ocean must look like; what horses smell like after rain.
"My grandaddy's gonna hide me if I'm not home by Clinch Mountain sunset," Buzzy said suddenly and was halfway down the oak in an instant, running off on the whisper of trail. "You help yourself to my smokes and make sure the lock is tight before you leave." His voice threaded the darkened woods.
I stayed another minute, then locked the tree house and shimmied to the ground, tumbling onto a cushion of last year's leaves. I made my way back over the blurred footpaths on the hills outside of town and reached the porch at Chisold Street in full night.
Back in Indiana, arriving home after dark and two hours late for dinner would have won me a half-hour lecture and a weekend pass to my bedroom. But things were different now. As I aired up the steps and onto the dim porch, I could hear the spinning of ice in a glass.
I stopped. "Hi, Pops. I'm really, really sorry I'm so late and I missed dinner; I know you and Mom are really mad but I was out in the woods and I got lost and I—"
"Son, relax," my grandfather said in his soothing southern way. "Audy Rae put your dinner in the refrigerator. You know how to work an oven. Heat it up or save it for tomorrow if you're inclined."
"Is Mom really mad?"
"Your mom's still thinking about other things, so I'm gonna be mad for her."
"You don't sound mad."
"Well, I'm only mad for her. If I was mad for myself, your hide would be bright red about now. Go on in and eat your supper."
- "A page turner...What [Scotton] should be congratulated on is his willingness to tell a new story in an old neighborhood, to draw characters who are thoroughly human, and to create a story that leads to terror and redemption, love and survival." —The New York Times Book Review
- "THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE EARTH is a marvelous debut...The setting, in the coal country of Appalachia, is rich in history and lore and tragedy. A young teenager comes of age under the wise counsel of his grandfather. An ugly murder haunts a small town. The story has everything a big, thick novel should have, and I hated to put it down."—John Grisham
- "How marvelous to start the year of reading with Christopher Scotton's big-hearted THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE EARTH...In the world created by Scotton, Appalachia is more than verdant or hardscrabble... Scotton writes with deep understanding about how the mines eventually got played out and the impact of mountaintop removal... Evil may defy understanding, but in that inquiry into evil, this lovely novel brings readers closer."—The Chicago Tribune
- "[A] pulse-quickening debut...Scotton tempers his Gothic tale with poignant insights into the crushing weight of loss...THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE EARTH melds beguiling characters with an urgent ecological message."—O Magazine
- "The coming-of-age story is enriched by depictions of the earth's healing and redemptive power...makes for compelling reading when the action grows intense-managing, like the landscape it describes, to be simultaneously frightening and beautiful."—Publishers Weekly
- "Gut-wrenching...A powerful epic of people and place, loss and love, reconciliation and redemption."—Kirkus (Starred Review)
- "Scotton is a natural storyteller with a terrific knack for visiting trouble upon his characters and pushing them into confrontation...Not a page goes by without a threat, a promise, an action or a reckoning...expertly woven."—The Washington Post
- "Christopher Scotton's first novel opens with such a grand sweep of language that I knew at once I was in the hands of a master storyteller. I was swept up in the drama of a boy watching his world come apart. The book is big as all get-out--human and warm, richly detailed, beautifully told, impossible to put down."—Mark Childress, author of Georgia Bottoms
- "Astonishingly confident debut novel...a hugely powerful meditation on the deep cost of change...that will absolutely rivet his readers with an virtuoso combination of uplift and heartbreak. Writing careers don't begin any more promising than this."—Christian Science Monitor
- "Solid, sometimes soaring debut...written in taut, propulsive prose...a big, old-fashioned yarn well worth the telling."—USA Today
- "Violent and wonderfully tender...bittersweet...full of gorgeously rendered, intricately interwoven story threads...But it's Scotton's clear love of and respect for his subject--and his refusal to rely on cliches when describing Appalachia's humble people, their trials or their successes--that makes the novel so surprisingly uplifting at times, and profoundly rewarding."—San Francisco Gate
- "Marvelous...Scotton writes with deep understanding...with a vivid but light touch."—News and Observer
- "A deeply moving story about human cruelty and compassion...wonderful...This book reminded me a little of Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'"—The Oklahoman
- "With its hardscrabble setting and cast of burdened characters hemmed in by seemingly insurmountable circumstances, Scotton's violent and wonderfully tender novel speaks not only to a bevy of America's centuries-old troubles but also to our frustrated yet ardent attempts at fixing them."—San Francisco Gate
- "A masterpiece...Scotton sketches a rainbow of humanity...splendid and hopeful. Scotton's undeniable love and awe for this region shine through as he painstakingly portrays strokes of beauty in man and nature...The belief that everyone can make a difference in even the smallest of efforts shines optimism in the bleakest corners of the novel."—Shelf Awareness
- "The debut novel from Christopher Scotton weaves the impacts of mountaintop removal mining into a poignant story of humanity and healing."—Appalachian Voices
- "Scotton's finely wrought characters, perfectly paced plot, and keen sense of place make THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE EARTHresonate with the reader long after the book has been finished."—Catherine Weller, Weller Book Works
- On Sale
- Jan 5, 2016
- Page Count
- 496 pages
- Grand Central Publishing