cover image THE COAL TATTOO


Silas House, Author . Algonquin $24.95 (324p) ISBN 978-1-56512

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.