Amy Greene tells the story of a river “…the Cherokees who once lived on its shores had called it Long Man, with his head in the mountains and his feet in the lowlands.” It’s long, this river and it not only runs through a part of the South but it runs through lives – generations of them.
And Greene’s novel Long Man builds on this image, this vision, this description of the river and the lives on its periphery. The river and the creation in the mid-1930’s of the Tennessee Valley Authority is central but the story in this book is one of humans who live on the land, who love the land, who are passionate about the lives they live and about the rugged, untamed Appalachia that surrounds them. Homes are built by hand, of existing materials and fruits and vegetables grow both wild and cultivated. Fish are regularly pulled from the river and life is comfortable if not easy.
Annie Clyde Dodson was born in the hills and she and her husband James live there with their three year old daughter called Gracie. Silver is Annie’s aunt, the sister to Annie’s deceased mother – but more than that she is a sort of guardian angel of the primitive area – one who shuns the intrusion of modern updates and the changes the new dam will bring. She says she can see by the light of the sun and the light of the moon and what else would anyone want. Annie is as connected to the land as Silver is and is passionate to hand it down to her own daughter, the next generation to live on the mountaintop farm. Life is not easy – crops grow or fail depending on the weather, Annie scrubs her clothes on a washboard and no one has electricity and the ease-giving appliances that come with it.
When the TVA authorities begin to move residents to other locations so the project can go through, love of the land and the way of life become as sharply defined as an antique stone arrowhead. Annie does not want to leave, even though James has gone to Detroit to find another life for them. Annie defies the authorities, claiming she wants her daughter to see her dragged off in handcuffs rather than submit. Amos grew up in the area but for years, he has drifted and made his way by riding the rails and scrounging or stealing. He has few possessions and seems to shun commitment. Yet, he returns to the area – at least for awhile – and to his mother Beulah – and to Silver who loves him. Scruffy and one-eyed, Amos lives in the woods and when Gracie goes missing, he is the prime suspect. The sheriff calls on the town’s remaining men to look for Gracie and tensions build. And currently in the town of Yuneetah, tensions center around the dam.
Amos and his actions in the summer of 1936 will become a part of the history of the area. Did he have anything to do with Gracie’s disappearance? Will she be found before the dam is destroyed and thousands of gallons of water rush in? What will Amos do to try to stop the dam and how will that affect him? And Silver who wants to halt progress – what will happen to her and her mountain-woman way of life?
Amy Greene was born and raised in the foothills of East Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains which is most likely the reason she writes about the region and its people with such sensitivity and tenderness. She is also the author of the national best seller Bloodroot. “When I was six, I would walk along the creek behind our house, telling stories. I always knew I wanted to be a writer,” she told me. “I was 18 when Adam and I got married and we decided we’d be happy being poor so I could write. I’d never met another writer nor taken a writing course when I wrote Bloodroot.” Amy and Adam have two children (their son 18 is in college this year) and she got an undergraduate degree from a college in Vermont. “I never knew I had an accent till we went there!”
Amy Greene says her characters are based on individuals she has known, especially those from her East Tennessee hometown of Russellville. She continues to live and write in the area she loves.