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.
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.
“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.”
“[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.”