This month’s book review from a local book club:
Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall (327 pages)
Olivia Harker Cross owns a strip of mountain in Pope County, Kentucky, a land where whites and blacks eke out a living in separate, tattered kingdoms and where silver-faced wolves howl in the night. But someone is killing the wolves of Big Foley Mountain–and Olivia is beginning to realize how much of her own bitter history she’s never understood: Her mother’s madness, building toward a fiery crescendo. Her daughter’s flight to California, leaving her to raise Will’m, her beloved grandson. And most of all, her town’s fear, for Olivia has real and dangerous enemies. Now this proud, lonely woman will face her mother and daughter, her neighbors and the wolf hunters of Big Foley Mountain. And when she does, she’ll ignite a conflict that will embroil an entire community–and change her own life in the most astonishing of ways. (from goodreads.com)
Reaction to this book was strong and evenly mixed; a third enjoyed the first half of the book and thought the second half was rushed and inconclusive; a third enjoyed the second half and thought the detail of the first half bogged down the story; and a third didn’t care too much for either the first or second half.
On the positive side, the narrative is rich in detail describing growing up poor in Appalachia (didn’t most folks grow up that way in Appalachia?) and it is easy to visualize the characters going about their daily business, interacting with family members and townsfolk. The heroine, Olivia, evoked a good deal of empathy. After being raised by an adored and adoring father, she suddenly finds herself the mainstay in a family that includes a mentally ill mother and illegitimate child. The reader is plunged into her loves gained and lost, poverty, and exposure to cruelty to man and animal, struggles to make a life in the midst of personal challenges, and attempts to make sense of the unexplainable. Her challenges are legion; yet as one who has little of the earth’s bounty to share, her compassion for those with even more woes and less means makes her an extremely sympathetic character.
Her family members and the townsfolk are aware of a secret that Olivia seems unable to unearth. The ultimate disclosure of this secret, and the tying up of other “loose ends” to the story seemed abrupt and, frankly, totally implausible. This left several readers with many unanswered questions which did not seem to be by design, but rather by a rush to bring the story to a conclusion.
The book offered a glimpse into rural life in the first half of the 1900s and introduced some little known historical facts about Appalachia, and the author clearly developed her characters. However, most agreed that it would not be a book widely recommended to friends.