I've been reading Clay's Quilt. It's all about Kentucky, and it's accurate. Not just the bad bits, religion that endorses abusive relationships and drunken parties with cocaine and bourbon every weekend, trailers with single dads with pregnant daughters, men and women with only a fleeting notion of fidelity or relationships. The good bits, too, all the true loveliness of it, the descriptions, the winding roads and gardens, the fireflies and winter snows on the mountains.
One of my favorite parts is where Clay is imagining the death of the man who shot his mother.
'We all wanted so bad for him to be dead, that he just was. Something took care of it for us.'
Her words were final, and that was enough for Clay, anyway. He pictured the death wishes of everybody that had loved his mother--Easter, Gabe, Marguerite, Paul, Sophie--all of those vengeful prayers rising up into the air, becomine one solid and real entity. He imagined that they became a mass of red, crying birds, flying over the mountains, casting a shadow on the land beneath them. They were redbirds, and their bright bodies were stark and beautiful against the gray sky, the white earth. They sliced through the winter air as they zeroes in on Glenn. The murderer was so frightened by the oncoming flock that he lost control of his vehicle and plummeted off the side of the road. He tried to run, until he fell into the creek, where the birds rested heavily upon him--the thousand of them. They sat on him,flapping their broad, shiny blood wings, their eyes perfectly round and opaque. Finally, all of his breath was in the creek, and ice started to collect back around the corpse. Then the birds took off, one by one, like drops of blood being sucked up into the clouds, up to become a part of the gray, rolling sky of January.
It's hard for me to be objective, because everything I loved about Eastern Kentucky I loved about this book. The descriptions, the wildness of the land, the mountains arching off into the sky, the weather and the rocks and the trees and the wildness of trees over a creek bed with the spots of sunlight coming through, the way the snow crunches underfoot and it's so quiet you can hear your blood rushing through your body, the hot muggy nights when you open the windows even though it's raining.
But everything I disliked about Eastern Kentucky I disliked about this book. We don't have a lot to do to keep ourselves busy; there aren't shopping malls, or many cinemas, or art galleries or theatres or cafes or bookstores; things close at dark, people go home and watch TV, or people go out and entertain themselves. Evangeline's honky-tonk with whiskey-beer-chasers and lines of coke before you go on stage isn't a far cry from it. I hate how relationships are here, how people decide to get married so young, how they cheat on each other without a thought, how intelligent boys don't see a point in education anymore and stop being intelligent, how nice girls with a future ahead of them throw it away for some boy who won't stay with them for another six months, how commitment doesn't last and you're either giving up all worldly things or you're going to hell, how everybody's cousins with everybody else and outsiders are so distrusted. How people have such a deep, abiding love of this place and don't want to leave, they don't want to move away to somewhere where there are other things to do and other things to think about. You're in or you're out. And Clay Sizemore, and his wife Alma, and Easter and Anneth and Silas House....they're all in.
But not Marguerite. She's brought up to the mountains as a bride. No one really likes her or gets the time to know her but Anneth, she doesn't fit in with the locals, she only gets close to other people after Anneth is dead, and even then, in the last scene of the book, where there's the uncomfortable "If you were really worried, you would have come to see me instead of coming to Easter's" that hits home to even her son. I felt sorry for her, and I identified with her; sitting on her porch, reading books, playing records no one else listens to, surrounded by a sea of people who are all so close to each other that there's no room for anyone else. Marguerite stayed but I moved away.
This book got to me in a couple of different ways. I started it back in June, but after Alma dreamed the rising-water dream that signified death, I became absolutely certain that she and Clay were going to die and stopped reading it. I just finished it Saturday, waiting for their death in the final passages. I don't understand why Alma felt so out of place, why she hated all the other people at the beach, why she didn't want them listening to her music. She feels like they're judging her for being from the mountains? But that doesn't make sense, either; it's like she's afraid of them, of them disapproving of her and of not fitting in with them, so she jumps on them when they're saying nice things about her playing. I don't understand why. Did living in such a tight-knit community make her suspicious of anyone else? Is it just another extension of the distrust-strangers mentality?
I like not being afraid of the end of a book, so I'll tell you now: they don't die. Instead of the death by rising water that I feared, Anneth and Clay have a child, and Clay finally gets a piece of his dead mother back in the form of a quilt made from her clothes. It's a good ending, not the poetic one I fearec was coming, but a good one nonetheless. I'm glad this is the last book I've read this summer before going back to school, because it brings some closure to leaving this state, trying to idenitfy all those mixed emotions about whether it's home. It's lovely and lush and cool and deep, and it depicts its setting perfectly.