When the publisher’s rep approached me about reading and possibly reviewing Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli, all she had to tell me was that it took place in the Appalachian Mountains and I was hooked. Glow tells the story of at least four generations in an Georgia Appalachian Mountains family, spanning the years from 1836 through 1941. It’s a complex look at race relations within one family, whose members are of Native American, African American and Scots-Irish descent. It’s also the story of the deep bond between mothers and daughters. And, thanks to the publisher’s generosity, one lucky reader will win a finished hardback copy of Glow!
“When I was a child, Momma informed me that there were no such things as ghosts. I was crushed and confused because my best friend and confidant, Lovelady Belle Young, was in fact a ghost. When I begged Lovelady to come home to prove Momma wrong, she flat out refused, saying she wasn’t in the business of convincing folks of her existence and that naysayers were just plain old scared of haints…”
Amelia “Mia” J. McGee, a woman of Scots-Irish and Cherokee descent, lives in Washington, DC in October, 1941, working for the NAACP. Her African-American husband, attorney Obadiah Bounds, was arrested last week when he refused to respond to his draft notice. He said he wasn’t going overseas to fight for freedom he didn’t have in the U.S.
When a brick is tossed through Mia’s front window one night, and the note attached is a credible threat, she panics. She immediately tries to get bus tickets home to Georgia for her small daughter, Ella, and herself but only one ticket is available. In her distressed state, she sees no alternative to sending Ella alone with their dog, Brando, because she doesn’t dare wait until morning to get Ella out of town and back with family, where she can be protected.
Although Mia had arranged for her brother, Buddy, to pick Ella up when the bus stopped at the nearest local stop to their homeplace, the bus breaks down before it can get there. Ella tries to wait for the next bus but she’s in the middle of nowhere and believes it can’t be that far from where she was supposed to meet Buddy. So she sets off down the road. Unfortunately, two men in a pickup come by while she’s walking.
“’Don’t run away. We ain’t gonna hurt you,’ the man with the burned eyes says.
I say, ‘No, thank you.’
They laugh. The man with the smile opens his door…I kick, I claw…I look down and see myself bent like a rag doll staring up. Next to me Brando is pacing. He howls like a hundred dogs. Another pop. Brando totters. We are crumpled by the side of the road…And I pray to Momma. I say, ‘Momma, please, please come for us. Please come for us. Please send the speckles now.’…The men speed away…But we are not alone. The lights are growing closer, bright as shooting stars.”
Ella is found by two elderly mountain women, Willie Mae and Mary-Mary, who care for her wounds and Brando’s until they can become well enough to make the journey back down the mountain to the homeplace. Little does Ella know that her family has been tied to these two women for generations.
“This whole place looks homemade…Over a bubbling pot the lady [Mary-Mary] stirs and seasons and pours and talks to herself.
‘Sup this,’ she says, ‘You’ll feel better.’ She blows and holds a pink teacup to my lips…I shake my head and try not to grimace. I do not like the smell one bit…
She [Mary-Mary] frowns and slurps in a sip. ‘Tastes like it should,’ she says and smacks her lips.
She blinks an eager blink. ‘I’ll tell you my top secret ingredient. Bee syrup. Takes away the bitter and leaves the sweet.’
She holds the cup out again…I shake my head again….’Maybe later,’ she says.”
‘Are you God?’
Willie Mae is quiet, and then she laughs big and loud. Her smile climbs out and fans across her face. ‘Now, wouldn’t that be something if God was an old black woman. I’d like that very much. No, I ain’t the Lord,’ she says.”
I’ve just skirted the edges of the very beginning of Glow. It’s the complex story of Solomon B. Bounds, who was born in 1789, and his descendents, who settled in the mountains and hollars of Appalachian Georgia. Their home was where Georgia meets the Great Smokey Mountains and what is now the Cherokee reservation. Each generation has its own story and voice within this novel and how those voices mesh into the story of Ella in 1941 is fascinating.
Glow is told from the point of view of Solomon’s female descendents and the females in the families with whom they inter-married. Some of these women were African-American, some were Cherokee, some were Scots-Irish, and most were a combination as the generations progressed through time. The book contains a family tree at the beginning. Although that’s done a lot with multi-generational novels, this one was fascinating to me and I kept referring back to it to see how each person’s life affected another’s.
I have to admit that I was leery about reading a novel whose author had so little exposure to not just the area but the 3 ethnicities involved in the novel and the complexities that all of those things involved. I put that issue to rest within the first chapter. Jessica Maria Tuccelli has done her research so thoroughly that I was swept up. I found no jarring notes of any kind. Glow reads so authentically that it feels like it was written by someone from the Appalachian Mountains, someone whose family settled there in the 1700’s. I loved every minute I spent with this novel and I definitely recommend it!
“In Hopewell County everybody knew everybody else’s family lore, and if you opened the closet and allowed the bones to settle, it was clear we all were linked: by a shared history or by shared blood, whether we admitted to it or not, whether we denied it or not, whether we liked it or not…Once when I was a small tyke and Buddy a youngster of not more than eight, he’d said the folks there lived like pigs. Momma had stood up from the table, furious. She said that the Negro folks in Washaway were no dirtier than the white folks here, and Buddy had no business speaking of a people living in a place he’d never been, especially when the one person he knew from there, Linden Bounds, was not only our friend but the purveyor of the finest peaches in the county. We all knew Momma had a sore spot on the subject, seeing how she’d been the first of her line to live off the reservation…Our true history came in morsels like that, some savory, some not.”
Q&A with Jessica Maria Tuccelli:
Q: Glow is steeped in the geography and folklore of northeast Georgia and Southern Appalachia, yet you were raised in New York City. Why did you decide to set your novel in this region, and how did you come to learn about this part of the world?
A: The world of Glow is an unconventional one, meaning ghosts inhabit the landscape just as easily as human beings, sometimes the two even being interchangeable. I needed an environment that could support and evoke that. My husband and I drove from Manhattan down the East Coast, and when we arrived in Northeastern Georgia, I knew I had found the ideal surroundings for my story. The forest was wet and lush and fertile with spooky pockets of light and dark, and exotic flowers the like of which I’d never seen before in the United States. There were mountains, hidden coves, cataracts, and cavernous gorges, the perfect playground for my characters, the perfect place to befriend a ghost. The confluence and clash of cultures lured me as well – Cherokee, African-American, Scotch-Irish – with such deep-rooted histories, yet still vibrantly alive.
Q: In Glow, you write mainly in the voices of people of color (African-American and Native American). Is it challenging to write characters that are culturally and ethnically so different from you? What inspired you to do so?
A: I don’t think of myself as writing in the voices of “people of color.” I write the voices of people. I write in the voice of the character who exists in a given time period, grappling with her or his circumstances. And I don’t see myself as different from my characters, which is not to say I am my characters, but they all do come from my imagination.
My mother is Italian and Catholic and my father was an American Jew, and as a young girl and as a teenager, I was often on the receiving end of racial hatred and violence. At home, I struggled with being a “half and half,” a misfit who did not fit into either parent’s community. In Glow, two of my main characters are “mixed race,” and struggle with their sense of identity and belonging. Figuring [out] where we fit into society – racially, culturally, sexually, who we are and what we stand for despite preconceived cultural concepts and oppressions – is one of the themes I explore in Glow.
Q: What would you say is the overriding theme that unites the many different threads of Glow?
A: Glow takes place over four generations. It begins just prior to the Trail of Tears and ends just before the U.S. entry into World War II. From one holocaust to another, linking two moments in history that people don’t generally consider in one breath. It’s the story of mothers and daughters, misfits, friendships, betrayals, and love. It speaks to the power of companionship. And human connections that prevail against forces of history that no one can escape. At its core, it’s about mother love in the most primitive sense of it, as in one’s primal need for a mother, and also the lengths to which a mother will go to protect her child.
Can’t wait to read it?
Glow was published on March 15, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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One lucky reader will win a hardback copy of Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli!
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