Long Man by Amy Greene

Long Man, by critically acclaimed author Amy Greene, is a trek into the heart of Appalachia and a searching look into the region’s people. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, Long Man wanders into the complex actions of people in the midst of change and experiencing intense and unspoken emotions.

The valley of Yuneetah is being evacuated as a dam that will bring electricity — and the 20th century — to the area is about to open. As the waters rise, a dangerous, one-eyed drifter called Amos reappears and Gracie, the tiny daughter of Yuneetah’s last holdout, Annie Clyde Dodson, disappears into a stormy night. Aided by the local sheriff, Ellard, and a representative from the electric company, the Dodsons race against time to find their daughter before the water forces them out. In the midst of this crisis, old feelings of grief, betrayal, and love resurface.

There is a lot to admire about Long Man. The cycle of time is clear in this story as the residents of Yuneetah are pushed from the valley as the Choctaw were before them. This story highlights what I love about the South: a fierce sense of place and family, love of tradition, appreciation of beauty, and the emotional complexities of a close-knit community. An undertone of grief gives an added poignancy and commonality to the characters. The ending was fitting and graceful if a bit slow.

Long Man is not without flaws. The novel opens from the viewpoint of an unnamed woman. She is only referred to as “the woman” and with the appearance of a similar, lone, mountain-dwelling woman, it was six chapters more before I could tell who had appeared. The “soul-older-than-the-hills” voice of the opening led to confusing, wordy scenery and unnecessarily inverted sentences. The prose settled into a more lyric and readable rhythm in following sections, although the occasional inversion or overly gilt sentence would slip in. I also found a strange disconnect from a few of the characters’ inner voices. This distance was particularly noticeable in Annie Clyde, one of the main protagonists.

Controversy and change are not new themes in the South, but the depiction of outsiders and the insider’s view was refreshing. The characters of Silver and Beulah I found particularly compelling. Their enjoyment of the land and their sense of time’s inevitability provided a nice balance to the frantic search for Gracie. Another nice counterpoint within the story is the decades-long rivalry between Amos and Ellard, one man desperate to keep things as they are and the other learning to let go.

It is not often that I find such a quiet story to be so impactful. I would recommend Long Man to anyone looking for a glimpse into one of the South’s forgotten pasts.

Originally published at susanfarris.me on July 5, 2015.

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