A benefit of our shortened attention spans is the re-emergence of the short story. That pleasurable form of fiction, sliced thinner than a novel but at its best equally compelling, for a decade or two languished out of fashion but returns full of ginger.
In Out of the Mountains, Meredith Sue Willis gives her characters the juice of life. Some turn up in more than one story, prompting the pleasure of recognition. Willis writes about people from Appalachia’s West Virginian corner, where she herself comes from, and about people from New York, where she lives now, with a smattering of folks from elsewhere. They’re all alive on the page.
In one of my favorites here, “Pie Knob,” a Jewish New York couple and an Appalachian woman, whom we know from other stories, interact in complicated and intensely human ways, leaving the reader both sad and glad, the way life sometimes does.
Old hurts and ancient wrongs surface at a funeral in “Fellowship of Kindred Minds.” “Nineteen Sixty-Nine” and “Evenings with Dotson” are two ways to tell the same story; one is two pages long and the other 10 pages, but each has its purpose.
“Triangulation,” in structure the most sophisticated of these stories, opens the book, a mistake, I think, as it is unlike the rest. In it Willis tells us more or less what she plans to do. It would be better placed at the end, to let us see where we’ve been.
T.S. Eliot told us that “returning from our exploring” allows us “to see the place for the first time.” I think Willis could not have seen so accurately had she stayed in Appalachia. Eliot didn’t go back to St. Louis, either. What we carry with us comes in focus when we look back from a distance and it’s the looking back, I think, that Eliot had in mind. Grade: A---(Meredith Sue Willis, Ohio Univerisity Press)
From the Publisher
“Meredith Sue Willis writes sparkling, masterful stories, grounded in the wisdom of place, musical in their voices and cadences, and truly joyful in their understanding of the power of words. Reader, enter in!”
Jayne Anne Phillips
“(Willis’s) characters possess a conversational familiarity, and the reader feels absorbed into the small community that is both distinctly Appalachian and markedly universal. This finely crafted collection is worth reading twice to discover all its intricacies and connections.”
“I love this collection because it is not just about the rich, full heritage of the Appalachian past, but about how contemporary people from the mountains deal with moving out or moving on.
The stories from Out of the Mountainsmake me wish I knew these people; I probably do.”
Roberta Schultz, Around Cincinnati, WVXU
“Appalachian stories need not feature ‘a granny woman’ and be set in the past. Out of the Mountains: Appalachian Stories by West Virginia native Meredith Sue Willis is a collection to prove the point. It's (twelve) stories are set in the milieu of the 21st century and explore current issues familiar not to just Appalachians but to contemporary readers everywhere. Her timely stories ring true and are often humorous.
She is one of the true voices of Appalachia in print today.”
West Virginia Book Festival: The Blog
“Character-driven and contemporary, the stories mirror situations we know.
As a writer (Willis) uses the imagination of her heart to explore her cultural heritage from many vantage points.”
Now and Then: The Appalachian Magazine
“Pick up this book and read it a story at a time. Meet Willis’ people and understand the issues they face. You won’t be the same after you do.”
The Advocate (Baton Rouge)
“In Out of the Mountains, Meredith Sue Willis gives her characters the juice of life. Some turn up in more than one story, prompting the pleasure of recognition. Willis writes about people from Appalachia’s West Virginia corner, where she herself comes from, and about people from New York, where she lives now, with a smattering of folks from elsewhere. They’re all alive on the page.
“What does connect the stories is a sense of displacement and restlessnessinsiders who leave the mountains to live elsewhere and outsiders who come to the mountains. There’s a tension between belonging and not belonging, of insider vs. outsider, of rural vs. urban, of traditional customs vs. new ways.”
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