Sweeping Up Glass

Sweeping Up Glass

by Carolyn Wall

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Overview

Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall

Destined to be a classic, Sweeping Up Glass is a tough and tender novel of love, race, and justice, and a ferocious, unflinching look at the power of family.

Olivia Harker Cross owns a strip of mountain in Pope County, Kentucky, a land where whites and blacks eke out a living in separate, tattered kingdoms and where silver-faced wolves howl in the night. But someone is killing the wolves of Big Foley Mountain–and Olivia is beginning to realize how much of her own bitter history she’s never understood: Her mother’s madness, building toward a fiery crescendo. Her daughter’s flight to California, leaving her to raise Will’m, her beloved grandson. And most of all, her town’s fear, for Olivia has real and dangerous enemies.

Now this proud, lonely woman will face her mother and daughter, her neighbors and the wolf hunters of Big Foley Mountain. And when she does, she’ll ignite a conflict that will embroil an entire community–and change her own life in the most astonishing of ways.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385343039
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/04/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 501,698
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.74(d)

About the Author

Carolyn Wall is an editor and lecturer. As an artist-in residence, she has taught creative writing to more than 4,000 children in Oklahoma, where she is at work on her second novel, The Coffin Maker, coming from Delta in 2010.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


The long howl of a wolf rolls over me like a toothache. Higher up, shots ring out, the echoes stretching away till they’re not quite heard but more remembered.

There’s nobody on this strip of mountain now but me and Ida, and my grandson, Will’m. While I love the boy more than life, Ida’s a hole in another sock. She lives in the tar paper shack in back of our place, and in spite of this being the coldest winter recorded in Kentucky, she’s standing out there now, wrapped in a blanket, quoting scripture and swearing like a lumberjack. Her white hair’s ratted up like a wild woman’s.

I’m Ida’s child. That makes her my ma’am, and my pap was Tate Harker. I wish he were here instead of buried by the outhouse.

Whoever’s shooting the wolves is trespassing.

“I’ll be out with the boy for a while,” I tell Ida.

I’ve brought her a boiled egg, bread and butter, a wedge of apple wrapped in cloth, and a mug of hot tea. She follows me inside and sits on her cot. Ida’s face is yellowed from years of smoke, her lips gone thin, and her neck is like a turkey’s wattle. Although there’s a clean nightgown folded on a crate by her bed, she hasn’t gotten out of this one for almost three weeks.

Pap once told me that when he first met Ida, she was pretty and full of fire. She rode her donkey all over creation, preaching streets of gold over the short road to hell. She still calls daily on the Lord to deliver her from drunkards and thieves and the likes of me. Last summer, she sent off for Bibles in seven languages, then never opened the boxes. It’s dark in Ida’s shack, and thick with liniment and old age smells. Maybe it’s the sagging cartons, still unpacked, although my Saul moved her here a dozen years ago. Then he died, too.

“I can’t eat apples with these false teeth,” she says.

“Will’m saved it for you.”

“Pleases you, don’t it, me stuck in this pigsty while you and the boy live like royalty.”

Royalty is a cold-water kitchen behind the grocery store. Will’m sleeps in an alcove next to the woodstove. I take the bedroom. Here in the cabin, I’ve tried to better Ida’s life, bring a table, hang a curtain, but she says no, she’ll be crossin’ soon.

“I’ll be out with the boy for a while,” I repeat.

“I’ll ask God to forgive your sins, Olivia.”

Ida’s not the only thing that sets my teeth on edge. I worry about the way folks come for groceries but have no money. Most of the time, they take what they need. Will’m and I write everything down, and they pay as they can—sometimes in yams or yellow onions, a setting hen when the debt gets too high.

If Pap was here, he’d tell me everything was going to be all right.

“Hurry up if you’re going with me,” I tell Will’m.

Damn fool’s errand. I put on my big wool cape and mittens. I have Saul’s rifle.

Will’m brings the toboggan from the barn. He’s wearing a pair of old boots and so many shirts that he looks like a pile of laundry. I can barely make out his dark grey eyes through the round holes in his wool cap. I know what he’s thinking, just like Pap used to—some injured thing might need his care.

I’ll be forty-two next year—too old and thick-legged to plow uphill through snow that makes my hips ache. I should be home in my kitchen, warming beans from last night’s supper. Behind me, Will’m pulls the toboggan by its rope. We haven’t gone far before my fingers are froze, my toes are numb, and I realize I’ve misjudged the light. Where the snow lays smooth and clean, we stop to get our breath. It’s darker up here among the alders and pine. I set the lantern on the toboggan, strike a match, and lay the flame to the wick.

Below, to the left, lights blink on in Aurora, and a car or two winks along in the slush.

“Another shot!” Will’m says. “Gran?”

I hate it when he looks to me like that, like I can fix every damn thing in Pope County. “Will’m, this winter they’ll starve to death anyway.”

But I don’t mean that, and he knows it. Shortly the hunters will go home to their dining rooms where they’ll drink rye whiskey and eat hot suppers. Past the alder line, the last of the silver-faced wolves are curling up, hungry. They’re the only wolves recorded in Kentucky, and tonight a few more are dead.

In a clearing, we come upon the two males. Will’m stares at the round dark holes in their flanks. Their right ears are gone. A small gray female has crawled off under the brush, and she lies there, baring her teeth. She’s been shot, too, and her ear cut away. The blood has run from the wound, filling her eye and matting her fur. There’s no sign of the ears.

These aren’t just any wolves. The silver-faces have lived peaceably on Big Foley for sixty-five years. Then a week ago, a male was shot and his ear cut off. Will’m and I found the wolf, and finished him off. Today, the hunter was back, and he brought others.

“Damn,” I say. “This one’s had pups, winter pups.”

“Don’t shoot her,” he says.

“There’s lead in her haunch, and she’s near bled to death.”

“We’ll take her home.”

What I’m really thinking is—I know who did this.

“Back off from her, boy.” I lay the gun to my shoulder. “Halfway down, we’d have a dead wolf on our hands.”

Will’m says, “But she’s not dead yet.”

Confound this child. I ache with the cold. More snow is likely, and when it comes, it’ll cover our tracks and the sheer rock faces. It would be right to put a clean shot between her eyes. But also between her eyes is that fine silver stripe.

I wonder if Will’m’s likening himself to the cubs. Time’s coming when I’ll have to tell him about Pauline, although he’s never asked. He hasn’t yet learned that all God’s creatures got to fend for themselves, and the devil takes the hindmost.

“Well, give me your scarf, boy. We’ll muzzle her good and tie her on the toboggan.”

“I could sit with her,” he says, grinning.

“You could not. You’ll walk behind and keep your eyes open. Now do as I say, or we’ll leave her here.”

“Yes’m.”

“And there’s not God’s chance she’s sleepin’ in the four-poster, or under it, either. And if there’s no change by morning, I’m putting her down.”

It’s tricky without a rope. I pull, Will’m steadies. More than once the wolf slides off, and we stop to rearrange, and trade places. God love me, every day I understand myself less. I’m so tired that the wolf and the boy and Ida run together in my mind till I can’t think who’s who, or which needs me most.

Reading Group Guide

1. The wolves provide a connection to the mountain, and therefore to Olivia’s past. What in nature connects you to where you live?

 2. How do you think you would react if you discovered a massive, life-changing secret? 

3. Olivia discovers that her hometown is a hotbed of racist hatred. Have you ever discovered something awful about the place that you grew up? How did you react? 

4. Are the people who kept Olivia’s secret from her truly her friends? Do you believe they genuinely had her best interests at heart? 

5. The last paragraph of the book finds Olivia contemplating that “in Aurora, there’s still division between coloreds and whites. I’m equally to blame.” Do you think that Olivia is partly to blame for this division? How or why not? Do you agree with Olivia’s assessment that “It’s not that I pretended– I just didn’t see”? 

6. How much do you think Wing knew about the Cott’ners? If you believe that he knew about the lynchings, do you think that makes him as culpable as those who carried them out? 

7. Was Olivia right to prevent Pauline from taking Will’m with her back to California? Was Will’m safer going back to the uncertainty of Hollywood with his mother, or staying on the mountain with Olivia? 

8. Sweeping Up Glass examines segregation enforced by society, but also voluntary segregation from society. Can you see parallels to today in how people can segregate themselves either as individuals or as a community? What goals can hope to be achieved through such self-segregation? 

9. Do you believe that there is redemption for Tate? Does keeping the books and leading Olivia to them redeem him for his actions? 

10. For letting Olivia grow up believing what she did, is Tate as much an antagonist to Olivia as Alton Phelps? 

11. Do you think Ida knows what she does? Do you see her as being in control of her actions? Can you see a parallel in your own life of someone who appears to be out of control, but may know exactly what she is doing? 

12. The characters of Will’m and Tate are viewed as being universally “good,” whereas the Phelps brothers are viewed as being universally “evil.” Do you think it is that clear-cut in the story? In real life, are people ever one or the other? 

Foreword

1. The wolves provide a connection to the mountain, and therefore to Olivia’s past. What in nature connects you to where you live?

 2. How do you think you would react if you discovered a massive, life-changing secret? 

3. Olivia discovers that her hometown is a hotbed of racist hatred. Have you ever discovered something awful about the place that you grew up? How did you react? 

4. Are the people who kept Olivia’s secret from her truly her friends? Do you believe they genuinely had her best interests at heart? 

5. The last paragraph of the book finds Olivia contemplating that “in Aurora, there’s still division between coloreds and whites. I’m equally to blame.” Do you think that Olivia is partly to blame for this division? How or why not? Do you agree with Olivia’s assessment that “It’s not that I pretended– I just didn’t see”? 

6. How much do you think Wing knew about the Cott’ners? If you believe that he knew about the lynchings, do you think that makes him as culpable as those who carried them out? 

7. Was Olivia right to prevent Pauline from taking Will’m with her back to California? Was Will’m safer going back to the uncertainty of Hollywood with his mother, or staying on the mountain with Olivia? 

8. Sweeping Up Glass examines segregation enforced by society, but also voluntary segregation from society. Can you see parallels to today in how people can segregate themselves either asindividuals or as a community? What goals can hope to be achieved through such self-segregation? 

9. Do you believe that there is redemption for Tate? Does keeping the books and leading Olivia to them redeem him for his actions? 

10. For letting Olivia grow up believing what she did, is Tate as much an antagonist to Olivia as Alton Phelps? 

11. Do you think Ida knows what she does? Do you see her as being in control of her actions? Can you see a parallel in your own life of someone who appears to be out of control, but may know exactly what she is doing? 

12. The characters of Will’m and Tate are viewed as being universally “good,” whereas the Phelps brothers are viewed as being universally “evil.” Do you think it is that clear-cut in the story? In real life, are people ever one or the other? 

Customer Reviews

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Sweeping Up Glass 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sweeping up Glass is an easy read. The book is well written and the characters are interesting. It's a bit slow going at first. However, once things pick up, you're captured and cannot put the book down because you're dying to know what will happen next. The plot has a nice twist that is unexpected. I can't wait to read Wall's next book. I'm sure it will be a page turner, too. This is a definite read!
3B More than 1 year ago
Sweeping Up Glass is an engaging piece of literature, rich with imagery. The characters and setting are both unique and fully dimensional. Wall is successful in pulling the reader into this colorful tale. When the reader is caught up in the developing saga, a new twist arrives, which creates another realm for discussion.
TheBookFairy More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book for my mother, and decided to read it myself. It's not usually the type of book I read, but it turned out to be an outstanding story. It's full of very "real" characters and emotion. The characters aren't perfect or always nice, but you'll sympathize with them as they each grow from their experiences. This would be a great book for a book club.
teacherladyCH More than 1 year ago
I was enthralled throughout this story. Perfect characterization, amazing twist in a compelling plot. I would recommend to anyone who has time to read the entire thing, because you can't put it down. Should be in the Oprah book club! Can't wait for Carolyn Wall's next novel. Glad I came upon this novel.
Gramples More than 1 year ago
This book held my attention throughout. Lorna Raver does an excellent job in narrating. Hope they make a movie of this book. Five Stars!
kuhlcat More than 1 year ago
I definitely recommend this book. Totally and completely. The author captures your interest from the very first page. The only reason I even put this one down was because I had to earn my paycheck!!! I haven't read a book this good in a long time, and it feels great. I was starting to worry... The voice of the narrator is fresh and consistent, and the images she spins for the reader are vivid. The author keeps within the character for the entire book, not digressing at all into what we all are used to-- the "author's voice". I completely believed in Olivia Harker and was on her side all the way. It does get a bit confusing in some places, but that helped to build the character of Olivia and make her more real. The story works so well. Nothing in this novel was unnecessary. Every element eventually leads to the ending, and finally every piece of the puzzle falls into place. It all makes sense! I love books like this, that keep you guessing until the author finally has to tell you (or you've figured it out) and brings everything together. And the story itself-- early 1930's southeast America, the segregation and disrespect of the "coloreds"-- was intriguing and exciting. Pick up this book during your next trip to the bookstore. You won't be disappointed.
Margi_K More than 1 year ago
I can't say enough good things about this novel. You come to know each and every character no matter how small their part in the book. The setting is brilliantly illustrated. I could feel myself in the tar paper shack, the grocery, the church. This book will be a great read for book clubs and those readers who don't like mainstream fiction. I will recommend this title time and time again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow! This book is filled with characters that I will never forget.
brf1948 More than 1 year ago
This s a wonderful southern family saga, set in the 1920's, 1930's, 1940's. Carolyn Wall has done an excellent job with this novel, taking you, heart and soul, to hard scrabble hill country Kentucky before, during and after the depression. We follow Olivia Harker Cross first person from the time she is small child who adores her father and does not miss her institutionalized mother on through her life in Pope County, KY. Pope County is a small insular community, wide spread over the hills, where everyone is poor and sometimes hungry, where racial hangings are still a possibility and there hasn't been a wolf sighting or sounding in 20 years. By the time she is in her forties, Olivia is single handedly raising her grandson William, assisting her friends and neighbors through the hungry times, doing her best to care for her crazy mother living in a cabin in her backyard, and trying to protect 'her' wolves, descendants of a pair of silver wolves carried home from Alaska by her grandfather in an attempt to repopulate the wolves in Kentucky. Together she and Will'm run a small grocery store where they attempt to cover the needs of their neighbors. These are characters you will love - or hate - and a locale that becomes so familiar you can close your eyes and see the mountains, see the silver faced wolves which bond this story together, feel the heartbeat of the land right along with Olivia. It is a book I will want to read again, and savor. The people of Pope Country will stay with me. Though it has often been compared to other classic southern novels, I found this to be a classic in it's own right. Carolyn Wall is an author I will follow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book started a little slow however the characters captivate you enough to keep reading. The story picks up and has some surprising twists and turns!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this story although it isn't what I would call a happy or light read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. Great story, told simply. Will look for more by Carolyn Wall. Great story, easily read. Couldn't put it down. Will look for more by Carolyn Wall
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leaves an ache in your heart and a hole in your soul
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At once unique and universal, this family and their community reveal truth and the complex emotions that develop over generations. An ugly part of history is the background for this story of strength and human weakness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would give this book 4 1/2 stars if possible. It was simply wonderful. All the characters were fleshed out and because of that you were pulled into this story of depression era Kentucky. What a great protaganist Olivia is. Hated to see the end coming. I read it in one setting so you know I really loved this book and will read others by her.And I know I will remembed these characters for a very long time.
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harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1938 Kentucky, Olivia Harker Cross runs Harker¿s Grocery her only help comes from preadolescent Will¿m, whose mom Pauline dumped him on her before vanishing. Business is poor as no one can afford much. Looking back she thinks about her mom Ida living in a sanitarium in nearby Buelton, while her beloved Pap Tate ran a still and cared for ailing animals. Though married to Saul, for three decades Olivia has loved trumpeter Wing Harris who reciprocates, but neither has made the first move beyond howdy.----------- After Tate delivered a litter of puppies, he ran into James Arnold Phelps. Soon afterward Pap was dead and Ida had come home. Saul died not long afterward. Despondent, Olivia turned to Wing, but he rejected her. Even further upset, she chases after seedy male losers in dives. --------------- However, she began to turn it around when Pauline dropped off Will¿m on her as he is her salvation. When they hear shots fired by the mysterious Hunt Club members tracking silver-faced wolves, the pair becomes frightened as it is too cold to be outdoors hunting for sport. However, they soon have a bigger fear as the hunters stalk Olivia and Will¿m. ------------ Not for everyone as this is a strange historical thriller in which fans obtain a deep look at a beleaguered heroine who is seemingly betrayed by her loved ones whom she has loyally taken care of. Will¿m is her redemption as Olivia will do whatever it takes to keep the boy safe although that might mean breaking the perceptions she and others have of her. Fans who enjoy something different will relish a tense look at Depression Era rural Kentucky.---------- Harriet Klausner