It is clear that Soland appreciates the Walker Sisters’ way of life. “Our ancestors worked hard so we wouldn’t have to live like that. If they only knew, we needed to work hard in order to appreciate what we’ve been given.” She adds, “Now it seems what’s most appreciated, what’s most precious, has dissolved into the rolling rivers whose sound no one no longer really hears.”
The Walker Sisters were some of the last living residents inside what is now known as the Smoky Mountain National Park. They appreciated the mountain life with an appreciation the author longs for. With the help of Lisa Soland’s play on the life of the Walker Sisters, maybe we too can live what a quiet and simple life in these beautiful mountains of Eastern Tennessee might have been like.
Allowing the compelling cast to tell their story is a unique and exciting way to define the characters and to help the reader understand their role in Maizee’s life. In many ways the book is more like a play than a book. I was fascinated by the author’s poignant portrayal of what we now know as mental illness, which at the time was misunderstood and secretive.
The photographs in this book are vivid and at times striking. While they contribute to the story told in the text, photographer Tom Cogill has done an excellent job of using image to create its own narrative. As with many photographic documents of Appalachia, Listening to the Land has its share of standard landscape images: the blurry and babbling brook, the broad and rugged landscape, the active forest floor. But unlike other accounts, all of these images are beautiful. And the broad, more generic shots are interspersed with specific images such as a morel, mechanical gears, and a cluttered tool shed.
One evening Dr. Houston came in drunk. He sat with pistol cocked, waiting for the ghost. As the three knocks sounded on the door he bounded forward to meet it, and followed it up the stairs shooting and cursing volubly. The footsteps were not disturbed by the Doctor’s violence. They made their rounds with regular tread. As three farewell knocks sounded, Dr. Houston emptied his pistol into the outside darkness several times and closed the door.
While Keowee Valley isn’t a straight romance novel, it certainly has strong romantic elements, and I like to think of my protagonist, Quinn, as a romantic heroine–though I doubt she’d describe herself that way. I’m not too familiar with Southern romance as a genre, but I did read Gone With the Wind when I was a preteen and again as an adult, and if we’re talking about the Scarlett O’Hara type heroine, I think you’re absolutely right! Scarlett–and Quinn, too, I like to think–challenges assumptions about Southern women: that we’re sweet and prim and always poised, always mannerly, always well groomed and willing to stand behind our men. And most of all, that Southern women can be lumped into one sort of category, which is certainly not the case in real life or in fiction.