The Coal Tattoo [NOOK Book]


Two sisters can't stand to live together, but can't bear to be apart. One worships the flashy world of Nashville, the other is a devout Pentecostal. One falls into the lap of any man, the other is afraid to even date. One gets pregnant in a flash, the other desperately wants to have child.

This is what's at the heart of Silas House's third, masterful novel, which tells the story of Easter and Anneth, tragically left parentles as children, who ...
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The Coal Tattoo

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Two sisters can't stand to live together, but can't bear to be apart. One worships the flashy world of Nashville, the other is a devout Pentecostal. One falls into the lap of any man, the other is afraid to even date. One gets pregnant in a flash, the other desperately wants to have child.

This is what's at the heart of Silas House's third, masterful novel, which tells the story of Easter and Anneth, tragically left parentles as children, who must raise themselves and each other in their small coal-mining town. Easter is deeply religious, keeps a good home, believes in tradition, and is intent on rearing her wild younger sister properly. Anneth is untamable, full of passion, determined to live hard and fast. It's only a matter of time before their predilections split their paths and nearly undo their bond. How these two women learn to overcome their past, sacrifice deeply for each other, and live together again in the only place that matters is the story of The Coal Tattoo.

Silas House's work has been described as compelling, seamless, breathtaking, heartbreaking, eloquent, stunningly beautiful, and exquisite. In The Coal Tattoo, he raises the bar once again.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Evocative prose and unforgettable characters mark this haunting novel from House, a Kentucky writer who mines the storytelling tradition of Appalachia. Set in the 1960s, the novel functions as a prequel of sorts to House's award-winning book Clay's Quilt, offering two sisters who are as different as night and day. Anneth who will become Clay's mother is a wild-blooded manic depressive determined to suck joy from life, while her older sister Easter, a deeply religious Pentecostal woman with the gift of foresight, has "decided to walk through life like a whisper." House paints both characters lovingly and unsentimentally, charting how each remains devoted to the other through tragedy and a battle to hold on to the one constant that unites them in a turbulent world: their land. As they fight to protect their mountain from the mining company that wants to clear the earth and strip it bare, the sisters make sacrifices for one another that will grip the reader. House has a gift for understanding the cadences of mountain folk religion and the way that music sustains people's spirits. The titular image of the coal tattoo a bluish tinge that seeps under a miner's skin and leaves a permanent stain is a perfect metaphor for the novel's depiction of the indelible imprint the land leaves on the human soul. (Sept. 24) Forecast: House is already a regional favorite, and strong handselling around the country could build his audience nationwide. His books are an excellent choice for readers of religious fiction, but they have a more general spiritual and literary appeal, too. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Third in a multigenerational saga (A Parchment of Leaves, 2002, etc.) of a Kentucky mountain family with tragedy to burn. Easter and her younger sister Anneth are orphaned when their father dies in a cave-in at the Altamont Mine and their mother hangs herself shortly thereafter. The two and their brother Gabe are raised by their grandmothers: Serena, whose family settled in the shadow of the mountain at Free Creek; and Vine, a Cherokee whose land was on the other side of the mountain in an area that's now a mine. Easter is a churchgoing Pentecostal who finds love with El, but grief when her only child is stillborn and she can't have another. (The child has a blue birthmark similar to a "coal tattoo" that marks men who have survived cave-ins.) Anneth is a beauty whose wild streak draws her into drinking, barroom flirtations, and impulsive marriages to a Nashville-bound singer/guitarist, a wealthy mine foreman, and ultimately a dangerously controlling man. The relationship between the sisters is frayed by Anneth's recklessness, but ultimately family ties endure when the Altamont mining company turns to strip mining, using coerced "broad form deeds," and tries to bulldoze their mountain (" . . . loving the land was a given, not something one could choose. . ."). When the sisters and their aunt stand in front of the bulldozers, the media plays up the incident, and the land is saved for now. Anneth falls in love with a draftee headed to Vietnam, discovers she's pregnant, and promises to give the baby to Easter and El to raise. Both sisters are natural singers, and a motif about the coming of rock 'n' roll in the 1960s adds an intriguing period dimension. Sometimes marred by a monotony in itscharacterizations, but, overall, a gentle tale with appealingly flawed people and an exquisite sense of the quotidian.
From the Publisher
“A portrait of two sisters that is both realistic and deeply moving . . . House stakes a strong claim on the territory of Southern fiction, unearthing new gems from a well-loved landscape.”
–The Charlotte Observer

“[This] lovely novel . . . about the love and survival skills of two very different sisters . . . is powered by a strong sense of place.”
–USA Today

“[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.”
–Richmond Times-Dispatch

“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.”
–Southern Living

“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.”
–Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565128590
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 9/24/2004
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 250,849
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Silas House is the author of Clay's Quilt and A Parchment of Leaves. He is the recipient of the Kentucky Book of the Year Award and the James Still Award, from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. A Parchment of Leaves was a Book Sense Top Ten pick and a citywide reader's pick in four cities. A graduate of Spalding University, with an M.F.A. in writing, House lives with his wife and two daughters in Eastern Kentucky.
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Reading Group Guide

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?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 13, 2014

    ¿The Coal Tattoo¿ is the third installment in a series by Silas

    “The Coal Tattoo” is the third installment in a series by Silas House. This sweet novel is strong enough to stand on its own if you haven't read the first two books in the series, “A Parchment of Leaves” and “Clay's Quilt.” This a story primarily of two very different sisters as they walk through various trials, sometimes successfully and sometimes just by enduring. It is also a reflection of life in a rural area and the influence of coal mining on a community. As lives of the sisters unfolds the reader discovers how events in their past affects the characters present choices and values and leads them to uncover strength within.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2014

    Great Read

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2012

    Coal Tattoo

    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.

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  • Posted May 9, 2009

    Good Book

    Story of love, mistakes, forgiveness, spirituality. Reflects importance of place.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    deep look at the love between sisters

    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 Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2005

    His best book yet

    I absolutely loved all of his books, but this was my favorite. I really felt I got to know the characters so well, I was sad to see it end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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