After witnessing the death of his younger brother in a terrible home accident, 14-year-old Kevin and his grieving mother are sent for the summer to live with Kevin's grandfather. In this 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 events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky.
Medgar 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. When Buzzy witnesses the brutal murder of the opposition leader, a sequence is set in play which tests Buzzy and Kevin to their absolute limits in an epic struggle for survival in the Kentucky mountains.
Redemptive and emotionally resonant, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is narrated by an adult Kevin looking back on the summer when he sloughed the coverings of a boy and took his first faltering steps as a man among a rich cast of characters and an ambitious effort to reclaim a once great community.
©2014 Christopher Scotton (P)2014 Hachette Audio
This is the first audiobook that I disliked because of the narration. The performance was so subpar that I found myself not caring how the story ended. I found the narration to be pompous at times and such a caricature of southern or backwoods people's dialect that it was offensive.
I didn't know what to expect with this book and am so glad I decided to give it a listen. This will be one of those books that I will think back on. The characters were so beautifully described both in what they said and did. And the author didn't lay it all out in order. The book switched back and forth which added sweet mystery to the lives of the characters. This is a really good book and I do hope the author keeps up his good work. The narrator also did an excellent job.
Some of my favorite novels are those told from the *looking back* POV -- those coming of age stories, retelling of events enlightened by hindsight. From King's The Body, to Twain's The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, and Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, when told with skill and sincerity the shared humanity, no matter how diverse, *strikes those familiar chords* in each of us [*paraphrased from author Daniel Woodrell's NY Times review for this book]. In his debut novel, Christopher Scotton shares the tragedy of a family and strikes those chords with a skill that defies the term 'debut novel.'
The plot of this Bildungsroman is complex in that it is set in 1985 and tackles not only the usual companion issues of growing up after tragedy, but also is intertwined with the complexities of social and environmental attitudes. Kevin recalls the summer when after witnessing the horrific death of his 3 yr. old little brother (truly grizzly), the mother is grief stricken and withdraws into a catatonic state. At the urging of the grandfather (Pops) the two retreat to the mother's childhood home, tucked into the Appalachian Mountains, to heal.
Pops is that stalwart of integrity and honor; a hard working veterinarian with a love for the land and its people. He introduces Kevin to reading and great books, but when Kevin still shows signs of heading into serious trouble to cope with his feelings of guilt and loss, Pops makes him his vet assistant. Together they trek back into the hills to administer to ailing livestock. But it is Buzzy Fink that saves Kevin from his sorrow by befriending the naïve city boy and teaching him the secrets of the mountains. Under Buzzy's tutelage, Kevin learns to respect and love this land, opening a connection and a closeness with Pops. He also learns that in a small town everyone is connected, and nothing remains a secret for long.
In Scotton's characters, you'll recognize many of the same qualities that define the great characters of favorite novels. As the book progresses, these characters become more defined by the environmental and social issues. The bucolic setting hits a boiling point when the towns people begin experiencing the effects of Mountaintop Removal Mining -- a process that literally blasts the tops off the mountains leaving the countryside scarred and riddled with toxic carcinogens. Bubba Boyd is the strong arm mine owner that employs most of the town and is buying out the land to extract coal without consideration for the environment. The contention splits the town and the leader of the opposition, a gay hairdresser despised by Bubba both for his stand on preserving the pristine mountains and his secret sexual orientation, is found murdered.
The novel is substantial in page number and subject matter, difficult to summarize and do it justice. The heart of the story is charming and unforgettable, and this was one of my favorite reads. I can't recommend it highly enough. Here comes the BUT... I had a few issues with the book that I point out to justify my rating: Once Pops takes Buzzy and Kevin on a *Quest* into the mountains, I found myself having to chew a little more to swallow some of the story. There's a chimerical white stag that felt a little too "Expecto patronum!" and a legendary moss-back fish that almost swims onto Kevin's hook, a poultice concocted by Buzzy that defies known medical cures. Character-wise, Kevin is inordinately naïve; Buzzy, very Huckleberry; Big Bad Bubba?; Peter the gay hairdresser? the mule-shootin', corn-piped hillbilly?...I'm listening to their story, but sometimes thinking *central casting.* Technically these are issues that felt like little hiccups, but kept this from being a perfect novel. Didn't really matter...loved it in spite of itself.
*[Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell, is one of my all-time favorite novels.]
**Though already long, I'd like to address another reviewer's comments about the foul language. With respect, there are a few F-bombs, but I don't recall it being used often or gratuitously (I didn't count).
This was well worth the read. I openly laughed, silently wept and felt great joy and pride through Kevin's summer vacation and healing. This will become a must read for my students.
A musician and songwriter from the Boston area. I like "Regular Guy" books. No chick Lit, no zombies, or vampires please. No politics.
This is Christopher Scotton's first novel and it's a good one.
It's a coming of age story, an adventure, and a book that captured me right away.
Faintly reminiscent to Stephen King's "Stand By Me," it's violent but compassionate.
Though it's not perfect, it's a top-notch first effort and I'll be on the lookout for whatever this author comes up with next.
I'm a 75 year old fart who loves listening to a fine author, delivered by a really good narrator. I like bananas, too.
Yes...I can't imagine an adult reader who wouldn't love this story.
The Boys in the Boat...a vastly different setting, but speaks the same kind of truth of character.
Grandpa is the hero of this tale.
I read a lot of mysteries that i find exciting and thrilling. This is a book about a boy's healing that i couldn't put down. I held me start to finish. And even then, i was sorry it was over.
Fine, fine writing and beautiful delivery.
I love to read but never seem to have enough time for it.
Yes! The whole story draws you into this community and the characters from the first chapter.
That is was believable and how loss of family, community and self can happen to anyone.
All of them! I felt like there were multiple performers, not just one!
I am thankful my friend Jack recommended this book to me, I feel it will be one I will listen to over and over.
I liked the book because the writer created a world that I thought was real and that I could see myself having lived in it even though I did not share the exact circumstances.
Lots to like about this debut novel, but it did need some serious editing. It also read like this new author was trying too hard to prove his literary chops with some unnessecarily discriptive prose. Characterization and sense of place were great, and Robert Petkoff did a wonderful narration. I think his performance elevated the book to a higher level.
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