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Shiner, by Amy Jo Burns. 

November 29, 2019

Shiner, by Amy Jo Burns.  Riverhead/Penguin Books, 2020

Forthcoming May 2020.

4 stars

An unusual novel, set in the mountains of West Virginia about people who live there in isolation and pain –snake handlers, moonshiners, and silenced women.

Amy Jo Burns grew up a small town in western Pennsylvania. As child she lived in the center of the Rust Belt, when the region was caught in the center of decline and loss.  She left the area to study at and graduate from Cornell University. Currently she teaches creative writing and writes a regular column for Ploughshares.  Her first book was a memoir, Cinderland, published by Beacon, set in the rust belt, and related her own experience of being silenced about sexual harassment she had suffered.

In Shiner, Burns turns to another isolated and neglected region, the Appalachian Mountains. Her main character is Wren, the 15-year-old daughter of self-proclaimed preacher, famous for his ability to handle snakes.  With her parents Wren lives in almost total isolation from modern society, except for regular visits from her mother’s closest friend.  Despite her father’s intent to keep his wife and daughter away from outside contacts, tragedies intrude and force Wren to reconsider her place in the world.  In doing so, she faces new understanding of her parents and her mother’s best friend.

Burns’ novel is full of excitement and insight into the lives of people most of us ignore. Her portrayal of women silenced by men is poignant.  She is sensitive to difficult decisions individuals are forced into making.  At times, however, I wondered if Appalachians still live this way or if Burn has fallen into stereotyping them as so many previous authors have done. Yet I found the story compelling.

Shiner is a very good novel that I suggest for a variety of readers ready to move into unfamiliar territory.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 30, 2019 9:34 am

    Sounds interesting, thanks for sharing your thoughts

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