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“[This] lovely novel . . . about the love and survival skills of two very different sisters . . . is powered by a strong sense of place.”
“[House is] a writer of startling abilities . . . a master at rendering his characters’ emotional terrain as real and accessible.”
–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Full of heartbreaking beauty and suffering . . . House brings vividly to life the Appalachian Mountains. . . . His love of the land comes through his words, and his admiration of the people colors every character.”
“Some characters wear coal tattoos, patches of coal buried in the skin. . . . The author brands the readers with a similarly indelible mark as we become enmeshed in the lives of these people; it’s a badge to be worn proudly.”
“A deeply emotional story . . . How do we cope with tragedy and heartbreak? The Coal Tattoo describes the struggles that all of us must endure to be human.”
–Dayton Daily News
“Engrossing . . . [A] pitch-perfect tale.”
1. Did you know what a coal tattoo was before reading this novel? In what ways does the occurrence of a coal tattoo stand as metaphor or as symbol for the characters in this story? What different meanings does it have?
2. The character traits of Easter and Anneth are often juxtaposed in the novel. Easter realizes early in the story that there “was no name she could put to the difference between them.” How do the sisters’ differences keep them in conflict? Bring them together? How are Easter and Anneth alike?
3. Is Easter jealous or resentful of Anneth’s wild and carefree approach to life? Is Anneth jealous or resentful of Easter’s more grounded and careful approach to living?
4. How have the sisters’ grandmothers, Vine and Serena, affected the sisters’ development as women, as sisters, as mothers?
5. How does Easter’s devout religious faith both enrich and hinder her life?
6. Consider the scene where Easter is returning home after singing secular music on a popular television show (after she has left the church). She recalls the childhood memory of her grandmothers bringing her to a camp meeting where she had two first experiences: An anointing by the Holy Ghost and helping her grandmothers minister to striking coal-mining families. Does Easter view both of these experiences as religious?
7. Easter seems to possess mystical abilities, while Anneth seems obsessed with looking “for magic anywhere she could find it.” Easter wants to reject these mystical abilities, preferring instead “the peace of a life well lived, a good man, and the knowledge that her family was safe,” while Anneth continues to look for magic every day. Do the women ever reconcile themselves to their different quests? How?
8. Why does Anneth keep marrying men she doesn’t love?
9. What are the narrator’s attitudes toward the coal-mining industry in the early part of the novel? What are Anneth’s attitudes toward coal mining in the first half of the novel? What are the major factors that cause Anneth to view coal mining differently later on?
10. Discuss your own experiences with, and dispositions about, coal mining. Did you know what a broad form deed was before reading this novel? How does coal mining affect Black Banks? The environment at large? The economic and political infrastructure of Crow County?
11. How does the author explore class differences in this novel? Consider coal miners vs. Altamont Mining Company, churchgoers vs. nonbelievers, rural people vs. city people, Kentuckians vs. others? Does Silas House set up an “us vs. them” outlook in this story? Why or why not?
12. How does the author animate or enliven abstract concepts like faith, love, depression, and grief?
13. Water is a recurring motif in this story. Anneth is said to know water “on intimate terms.” What do you think this means? What are the different connotations for water that are explored in this novel? In what ways do the characters consider water as a personal emblem?
14. Redbirds also have a recurring role in this story. How do redbirds (and other elements of the natural world) help direct Easter and Anneth?
15. Do you agree or disagree with Vine’s suggestion to Easter that “stillness is a habit easily gained”? Why?
16. What accounts for the fierce loyalty Easter and Anneth hold for their small place on Free Creek? Do you think this allegiance to land is unique to eastern Kentuckians?
17. With which character(s) do you most closely identify? Why?
18. How do the chapter titles and the epigraphs from the book’s four sections contribute to your knowledge of the characters, plot, settings, or themes of the story?
19. The Coal Tattoo can be considered a companion book to Silas House’s first two novels. If you have read Clay’s Quilt and A Parchment of Leaves, how are these stories threaded together?
Posted April 18, 2014
I heard this book on cd years ago and realized that I must have this story in my collection. You will get to know the characters and the setting as if they were your own.
Posted April 21, 2012
I have never read this author before but look forward to reading more of his books. He captures the spirit and feel of how two sisters feel about one another and richly describes the beauty of Mountains of Kentucky. He captures the feelings of each character as they go through their joys and disappointments of women living in the early 6o's.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 9, 2009
Posted December 9, 2008
In Kentucky the two sisters lost their parents when they were very young so their grandmothers raised them. The older sibling twenty-two years old Easter is introverted finding solace as a devoted Pentecostal who attends church every week seventeen years old extrovert Anneth loves to dance all night at the nearby bars as she cherishes male attention. Anneth and Matthew Morgan fall in love and elope to Tennessee. However, after a few months of marriage and in spite of Matthew showering Anneth with love, she becomes bored and leaves him to return home. Meanwhile El McIntosh steadfastly courts Easter until they finally marry. Anneth is jealous of the relationship between her older sister and her brother-in-law, which she sees all the time because she lives with them. As Anneth continues to find the wrong man for her, she also tries to place her ¿tattoo¿ on El further dividing the sisters. While Apollo heads to the moon and young men die in Asian rice paddies the world seems crazy, but in Kentucky two sisters still need each other. --- THE COAL TATTOO is a deep look at the love between sisters with one being contented to be a steady lay back ¿whispering¿ through life while the other is an untamed rowdy marching band. Though polar opposites, the magnetism that connects them is a sisterly love for one another fostered by a land that tattoos the soul as much as the coal mining literally does to the miners. Interestingly, Anneth is the mother of Clay (see the highly regarded CLAY'S QUILT, which this reviewer has not read, but will) as this superb family drama will send the audience seeking Silas House¿s previous works. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 28, 2005
Posted August 7, 2010
No text was provided for this review.
Posted March 26, 2011
No text was provided for this review.