When I see that a book is set in Appalachia I tend to get excited. I love when the mountains from Georgia to Maryland get a little attention and I’m often eager to snap up books set ’round these parts.
So I was thrilled to get my hands on The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate. (Of course, she’s also a wonderful writer, so it wasn’t a hard sell.) The book starts out in New York with editor Jen Gibbs getting a job at the publishing house of her dreams. But Jen is from Towash, NC, and when a mysterious manuscript takes her back to the mountains of her childhood her new life and old ways will collide.
I REALLY enjoyed this book. But I’ll confess something. When I first hit the mountain dialogue I was a little put off. I kept thinking that it wasn’t how my people talked. There’s a story in my family about a reporter who interviewed my great-grandmother. When the article ran, she quote Grandma Jane using dialect and let’s just say Grandma was NOT pleased.
But it wasn’t just that the dialogue came from uneducated mountain folk. I certainly grew up knowing plenty of people like that. It just felt a little off. A little too much. Like singing The House of the Rising Sun to the tune of Amazing Grace. It works, but it feels different.
And that’s when I had my epiphany.
While Appalachia is a distinct region there are lots of sub-regions within it. The further south you go, the more likely you are to hear a bit of a drawl. In Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia there’s a twang. Tennessee and North Carolina have their own variations.
I wanted to hear a way of talking I’d grown up with. But I didn’t grow up in the Blue Ridge of NC. I grew up in central West Virginia. I’m a little ashamed of myself. Here I am, fancying myself a champion of Appalachia, and I was guilty of lumping the entire region under one banner.
While still Southerners, people in Virginia sound different from people in Mississippi. People in Charleston, SC, sound different from those in the upstate. And that’s were much of the beauty of the writing life comes in. People are different and authors get to show and share all those little nuances. Those little quirks and tics that make us unique.
Lisa Wingate does a wonderful job of this in The Story Keeper. It’s a delightful story that makes me proud to be from Appalachia with all its rich diversity. Even if I did grow up a little further north.