Silas House has done it again. As he did in his stunning debut novel, Clay's Quilt, he has written a rich narrative that captures both the scenery of the southern Appalachian mountains and the spirit of the people who live there.
A Parchment of Leaves is told mainly in first person by Vine, a bewitchingly beautiful Cherokee woman who has already inspired suspicion and jealousy among the whites. As her mother brushes out her daughter's long, dark hair she re-tells the story Vine has heard many times before but never tires of hearing the story of the summer day her great-grandmother, Lucinda, was saved from capture by the white Army while she was out picking blackberries.
While the little girl concentrates on filling her basket, the soldiers approach on horseback, but just as Lucinda is about to be discovered, she is whisked back into the brush to safety. Lucinda is just a little girl at the time, but eight years later, she marries her rescuer. The exceptional bonding between the rescuer and the rescued is echoed when Vine saves the life of a young boy, Aaron, who has been bitten by a copperhead. She falls in love with Aaron's older brother, Saul, and agrees to marry him. Vine's mother, who hasn't forgotten the trespasses against her people by the whites, is filled with a sense of foreboding when she hears of Vine's plans to marry a white man.
As the years pass and it becomes increasingly clear that Vine's brother-in-law, Aaron, is obsessed with her, the sense of foreboding intensifies. And with Vine's husband gone for months at a time to a logging camp, she must fight to save her marriage.
A native of Kentucky, where his family has lived for generations, House masterfully combines what he knows from his own experience and what he expostulates from the diary of his own great-grandmother, who was Cherokee. He continues to write with surety and the knack for telling detail of one who has absorbed the accumulated lore, legend and wisdom of his kinfolk.
Linda Stankard writes from upstate New York.