I’ve spent a lot of my day re-reading Clay’s Quilt, by Silas House. Joe read this book in the spring and raved about it. We do this to each other all the time–one of us finds a book that just blows us away, so we bug the other to read it too, just to have someone to discuss it with. Joe is usually a lot more good-natured about this than I am. I generally resent having to put down whatever I’m doing to read something I’m not interested in, and I give him a lot of evil looks and heavy sighs.
So I didn’t have a really good attitude when I started the book, but by the end, somehow a shift had occurred. Silas House became one of my favorite authors. He’s a Kentucky writer with an amazing ability to present his home in the best possible way. When I read his books, I get lost in the poetic language. His writing captures the langour and heat of the South but steers clear of the stereotypes. I hate when you watch a movie set in the South and the actors can’t manage the accent, so they just talk like they are dim-witted. House’s dialect perfectly captures the way I hear people speaking at church or at the grocery, and, if I’m honest, probably the way I speak too. But his characters are so richly drawn and passionate, so real and deep–I don’t see how you could read these books and still subscribe to Hollywood’s generalizations that we’re all stupid down here.
Another reason I love his books is the way he writes about women. House is one of the few male writers who writes about the relationships between women with insight and sensitivity. His first three books deal with several generations of the same family, and he eloquently illustrates the complexity of emotions between sisters. His characters are easy to relate to–I love when, in my favorite book, The Coal Tattoo, Anneth tells El that sisters don’t make up; they just go back to the way things were. It’s so true! I also appreciate the way he doesn’t gloss over the mistakes that people make or the hard choices women often have to make. His characters feel like people I grew up with–neighbors, family, friends.
I always kind of feel like his books should come with a soundtrack. Silas House used to write for No Depression, the fantastic alt country magazine that is out of business now. Music is so important to his characters–one of the reasons I love reading these books is rediscovering what they are listening to. In Clay’s Quilt, it is noted that you can tell a lot about a person by what they listen to. I scroll through the jumbled lists on my iPod and wonder what on earth you could tell about me by my musical selections–probably that I am a very confused person. But I like the way the music he chose reflects the desires of his characters’ hearts.
I’m looking forward to his new book, set to come out in 2009. Until then, I’ll be reading the old ones over again–I seem to connect in new ways every time. Silas House is one of those people I wish I knew, although if I knew him, I’d probably be too shy to talk to him. So he’s one of those people I wish Joe knew, and then I could find out about him through Joe and never have to embarrass myself by being awkward and uncomfortable. In any case, you definitely need to read his books.