From Publishers Weekly
The first time Ezra Banks sees the promised land called Cataloochee is when he runs away at age 14 and joins the Confederate army. So begins first-time novelist Caldwell's rambling account of life in the western mountains of North Carolina from 1864 to 1928. Land-poor Ezra returns to Cataloochee in 1880, marries Hannah Carter of the land-rich Carter family, takes over some of her father's property and goes on to raise a family and acquire more land, making him one of the wealthiest men in Cataloochee. But cantankerous Ezra is mean as a snake when he's drunk (and only slightly less when sober), earning him the community's enmity. The diffuse narrative moseys from one folksy yarn to the next about the fates of various members of the Carter/Banks clan. Late in the novel, conflict arrives in the form of the government's appropriation of Cataloochee to make way for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Then, Ezra, 78 and as irascible as ever, is shot to death, and his eldest son, Zeb, is charged with his murder. The ensuing trial is as singular as Cataloochee itself. A meandering and diverting collection of tangential yarns, Caldwell's debut will find a spot on many readers' shelves near Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons
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*Starred Review* Set in the reclusive mountains of North Carolina, Caldwell's rootsy first novel follows the small triumphs and tragedies of three families from the Civil War to 1928, when the area was absorbed into the new Smoky Mountains National Park. Keeping track of four generations of Carters, Banks, and Wrights, with their bountiful legions of offspring, would be a chore if not for Caldwell's deft touch, indelibly detailing characters even if their particular branch of the family tree only rustles free to offer a momentary glimpse into the loves, lives, and deaths of these hardscrabble folk. That the central conflict of the novel--a patricide--does not arise until well near the end speaks to the strength of the rest of this sprawling saga, wherein moments of inspired tenderness abut moments of unspeakable vileness, where friend and foe alike are worked deep into the folds of kith and kin. Throughout, Caldwell's prose weathers the bountiful yet perilous land with the measured resolve of an old folk balladeer, without resorting to sentiment or stereotype. Greil Marcus coined the term "old, weird America" in reference to the sometimes eerie, always peculiar Appalachian songs recorded by Harry Smith; this, then, is a novel about the folk who lived out their songs in that older, weirder America. Ian ChipmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved