Back Bay has republished Tony Earley's 2008 novel, and I'm wondering why. His sequel to Jim the Boy took the North Carolina mountain-dwelling Jim into his teen years and World War II. He's in love, but his sweetie "belongs" to a rich landowner's son who's fighting in the Pacific. The potential is there for a portrait of a young man, and a region, going through major changes, but Earley's self-consciously polished prose gets in the way. Earley is a good storyteller, but he writes in an overly pristine, writers' workshop-y style that keeps the reader at a distance from the story's emotional core.
Here's what I'm talking about. Someone is hoeing a cotton field, and has to go around a grave: "... it was a spot that by its nature forced me to end one thing, and momentarily step out of my way and consider, and then start something fresh on the other side; it made room inside those four rows of cotton, and the working days that held them, for a small, necessary type of hope." My question is, who the hell talks like that? The answer is: plenty of people in Earley's 1940s North Carolina hill country. The prose is too "just so," as are Jim's kin; and the picture it produces of a calm, stolid, homogenous region is sappier than North Carolina pines.
Local Note: Congratulations to Ron Chepesiuk, author and former CL contributor, who was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to lecture and research in journalism at Paramadina University in Jakarta, Indonesia, during the 2009-10 academic year. He will study the impact of the cyber revolution on the media in Indonesia and its lessons for the developing world.
The Blue Star by Tony Earley
Back Bay, 336 pages, $13.99