Reviews of Requiem by Fire

Caldwell follows up the well-received Cataloochee with this homespun effort about a close-knit mountain village's fight to keep the land its inhabitants have spent their lives cultivating. In 1928, the residents of Cataloochee, NC are given an ultimatum by the National Parks Commission to either resign their farmland for a price, or remain, but have their property leased back to them by the government. At the core of this conflict is Silas Wright, a farmer who locks horns with the Parks Commission, disputes both of the otions offered, and refuses to succumb to governmental demands. Attorney Oliver Babcock is also making rounds about town securing agreements to negotiate as well. Wright contemplates a lawsuit against the commission, for which longtime resident Jim Hawkins is now enlisted to be a warden of the park to come. Mild melodrama ensues as the goverhment removes residents from their homes, a mysterious death occurs, Hawkins contends with an unhappy family, and the town fire-starter gets up to his old tricks again. As in his debut, Caldwell again attributes rich historical background to a dizzying array of colorful, authentic Southern characters in an unhurried story about resiliency and the unifying power of community.
—Publisher’s Weekly

Caldwell’s outstanding debut novel, Cataloochee (2007) followed several generations of hardscrabble folk living in the Great Smoky Mountains, warmly describing them tending to pristine stretches of land, keeping a wary eye on outsiders, and creating a tangled forest of intermingling family trees. The book ends in 1928 with the resolution of a patricide and the impending transition of the land to the Smoky Mountains National Park. This book, then, follows those who choose to stay and live out their days on the family land, or move out and try to adapt elsewhere. With little central plot, the chapters instead form a collection of funny, wise, and raw vignettes that range from touching (a matron who talks to her dead husband to alleviate the pain of leaving her home) to uncomfortable (a near-feral deviant who draws sexual gratification from setting things on fire). Caldwell’s impeccable synthesis of setting and era, and especially his deft hand at crafting the rhythms of speech, can’t be entirely attributed to meticulous research. These stories are in his bones.

Excerpts from reviews of Cataloochee

"A vast, old-fashioned Southern tale...Caldwell writes with lyricism, precision, a hint of the Gothic, and a sweet u

nderlying humor that together make his long story crackle and move. He captures the physical look and the rich language of this breathtaking mountainous country, and puts before us vivid new versions of an American type—hard, stoic, at home in isolation, courageous, pious, and strong—that is still an essential component of how we see ourselves. Every moment of the story feels both generous and true."
—O: The Oprah Magazine

“In these days of strip malls and clogged highways, you can appreciate the government’s decision [to form the Great Smoky Mountains National Park]. But thanks to Caldwell’s skillful evocation, you’ll also be touched by the sense of loss that the people of this valley feel.”
—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Caldwell fully captures the sense of the people, the time and the place as he writes of a vanished community and way of life.”
—The Denver Post

“A brilliant portrait of a community and a way of life long gone, a lost America.”
– Charles Frazier

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What I Feel I Was Put On the Planet To Do
By Jerry Leath Mills