NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2020 BY NPR"Amy Jo Burns writes a version of Appalachia that is one step removed from magic - all strychnine and moonshine and powerful wonder."--NPR
" A] wrenching testament, told in language as incandescent as smoldering coal. . . This is not a despairing book, but a hopeful one, of Appalachian women taking back their life stories." --New York Times Book Review On a lush mountaintop trapped in time, two women vow to protect each other at all costs-and one young girl must defy her father to survive. An hour from the closest West Virginia mining town, fifteen-year-old Wren Bird lives in a cloistered mountain cabin with her parents. They have no car, no mailbox, and no visitors-except for her mother's lifelong best friend. Every Sunday, Wren's father delivers winding sermons in an abandoned gas station, where he takes up serpents and praises the Lord for his blighted white eye, proof of his divinity and key to the hold he has over the community, over Wren and her mother. But over the course of one summer, a miracle performed by Wren's father quickly turns to tragedy. As the order of her world begins to shatter, Wren must uncover the truth of her father's mysterious legend and her mother's harrowing history and complex bond with her best friend. And with that newfound knowledge, Wren can imagine a different future for herself than she has been told to expect. Rich with epic love and epic loss, and diving deep into a world that is often forgotten but still part of America, Shiner reveals the hidden story behind two generations' worth of Appalachian heartbreak and resolve. Amy Jo Burns brings us a smoldering, taut debut novel about modern female myth-making in a land of men-and one young girl who must ultimately open her eyes.
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- ISBN-13: 9780525533641
- ISBN-10: 0525533648
- Publisher: Riverhead Books
- Publish Date: May 2020
- Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Page Count: 272
In Amy Jo Burns’ lyrical first novel, the sheltered life of 15-year-old Wren Bird bursts open under the weight of family secrets hidden deep in the mountain hollers of West Virginia.
Wren is the daughter of snake-handling preacher Briar Bird, who holds services in an abandoned gas station outside of the appropriately named town of Trap. Local lore says Briar lost sight in one eye during his youth after being struck by lightning, an incident that has granted him mythical status in his small congregation.
The superstitious Briar is protective of Wren and his wife, Ruby, forcing them to live in seclusion. Their main contact with the outside world is through Ivy, Ruby’s lifelong friend. When Ivy trips on the hem of her dress and falls into an open fire, Briar heals her by hovering his hands over her body and whispering in her ear. This apparent miracle enhances Briar’s reputation, but it also further distances him from Ruby, who resents the isolation he has imposed on his family and now fears Ivy is becoming Briar’s acolyte.
As Wren tries to grasp the consequences of her father’s miraculous intervention, she delves into the story of her mother, how Ruby met Briar and the traumatic events that took place on the eve of their wedding day. Burns intersperses Wren’s first-person narration with the backstory of how Ivy and Ruby’s friendship blossomed, and how Briar and his childhood friend Flynn grew apart. Through this kaleidoscopic approach, Burns gives each of her characters the opportunity to shine. Wren learns more about her mother’s past by uncovering an unsent letter Ivy wrote to Ruby, and these revelations solidify Wren’s image of her mother as a strong woman whose will has been suppressed by solitude. Wren begins to gain her own sense of agency as she faces the future.
Burns—whose first book, Cinderland (2014), is a haunting memoir of growing up in a deindustrialized town in western Pennsylvania—is clearly no stranger to Appalachia. Her evocative, poetic prose contrasts with the gritty world of snake handlers, moonshiners and opioids. At times reminiscent of books by Bonnie Jo Campbell and Ron Rash, Shiner is a powerful novel of generations linked by trauma, and of the hope and resilience needed to break a cycle of misery.