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Posted June 1, 2012
As a participant in a recent book festival, I had the pleasure of swapping one of my own books for a copy of Valerie Nieman's Blood Clay. To say I was pleased with my end of the bargain would be an understatement. Classified as Southern Fiction, Blood Clay is an examination of two characters, each involved in personal turmoil, who are drawn together by an unfortunate tragedy that occurs within the community. Both Dave and Tracey (two of the most three dimensional characters you'll ever meet) are flawed in one way or another, and struggling to be whole. Their dual journey is one of discovery and growth, and one that will captivate any reader who enjoys a well told story. It is my pleasure to recommend Blood Clay as a superlative read. I look forward to reading a good deal more of Ms. Neiman's work.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 6, 2011
Valerie Nieman does something unusual in her new novel, "Blood Clay," set in the tobacco country of rural North Carolina: The "big" event, in which a young black girl is killed by a pack of dogs, isn't the climax of the story. Instead, it comes near the beginning; the rest of the novel explores its complicated aftermath. A neighbor, Tracey Gaines, witnesses the attack. Rather than plunge in and risk a mauling or death herself, she runs away to call for help. Is Tracey a coward or has she acted sensibly? Opinion in Saul County is divided, because Tracey, a recently divorced Ohio transplant, doesn't quite belong there.
How and why people belong in a place, how others fail to fit in and how a few, who used to be bound to the community by blood and by the blood-red clay where tobacco has been lovingly hand-cultivated for generations, suddenly find themselves on the outside -- this is the focus of Nieman's nuanced exploration of the contemporary South. Tracey strikes up a friendship, then something more, with Dave Fordham, a fellow teacher at the local alternative school. Dave once left Saul County to teach at an inner-city school in Philadelphia, where gang members beat him viciously. Lame and permanently frightened, he has changed too much to settle back into his old place -- and people he has known all his life don't look at him the way they used to.
Even animals take part in this dance of belonging and not-belonging. The feral cats at the old farmhouse Tracey is restoring have to decide whether to belong to her -- to accept her food and affection -- or remain wild, hungry and free. Tracey identifies the dogs who attacked the girl as belonging to Artis Pennell, a tobacco farmer she has already offended by mistaking his down-home neighborliness for romantic interest. The dogs are quarantined pending Artis' trial for involuntary manslaughter, and Artis, like Tracey, finds that he has detractors as well as supporters. The tobacco business, crippled by anti-smoking campaigns, no longer assures his son, Jim, an identity and a livelihood, so Jim, one of Dave's students, drifts into delinquency.
It's not the first time Southerners have been torn by a sentimental attachment to something toxic. Tracey, fresh from the North, sees only a variant of the old dark story, but Dave, in courting her, constantly challenges the stereotypes, enlarges her understanding -- as Nieman enlarges ours in the course of this taut, realistic novel that's a tragedy, a love story and a comedy of manners, all at once.
Posted March 12, 2011
Valerie Nieman's latest is BLOOD CLAY, a highly realistic story about people you feel you could know and be friends with. They get caught up in unexpected, gripping, and horrific events. Things small and large are seen in perspective in this apotheosis of everyday people living ordinary lives- which means lives full of discovery, love, anger, violence, struggle, cowardice, failure and hope. What is unusual and deeply satisfying here is the insistence on how the story goes on and we keep on, living through our failures, facing our fears, reaching for one another. Valerie Nieman's website is here.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.