Reading a novel that is set in a place where you have actually lived or visited is an interesting experience. Being born and bred in East Tennessee, this is not a common occurrence, but it does happen. Usually, the books I read take place in distant or imaginary lands such as New York City, England, Yoknapatawpha County, or Middle Earth. However, over the past few years I have come across several novels that are centered on my home turf.
I have a complicated relationship with my Southern roots. Growing up I despised the South. I was perpetually embarrassed by my extended family’s twangy accent and bizarre colloquialisms. I despised traditional Southern food, I refused to read indigenous authors or listen to country music. In short, I was certain that I would flee the South as soon as I could. Thus, when I began my college search I confined my scope to the Northeast and Midwest. Imagine my surprise when I ended up falling in love with a school that is located in Lexington, Virginia and steeped in Southern history.
During my almost first few years at Washington and Lee, I have learned to love my home and my heritage. However, that is only the glamorous side of my Southern roots. Beneath the surface lurks the dark side of my family history. One side of my family is originally from deep in the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee. They are what you might call “hillbillies” and many of my ancestors were moonshiners. I tried to hide this side for years, but when we read Cormac McCarthy’s The Orchard Keeper last year in my Southern Fiction class, it all came flooding back.
McCarthy, an East Tennessee native himself, perfectly captured the region’s uniquely grating and nasally accent. The strange folktales that appear in the novel are the same stories that I grew up listening to whenever I visited my grandparents. The untamed and awe-inspiring mountains depicted in The Orchard Keeper, are the same peaks that I trekked through annually with my parents. Rather than feeling horrified and embarrassed by McCarthy’s depiction of my home, I felt proud. This novel made me realize that my culture was something to be celebrated. Now, I fully embrace my distinct Southern background.
What about you? Are there any novels that take place in your home town? Did they do the place justice?