Ask Now the Beasts
For her work, Brittany won the Departmental Award for Outstanding Creative Writing Student. Her description of her novel is below.
For many people the term “Appalachian” may call to mind a truly American pathway, running north and south through the mountainous terrain of one of the first wildernesses in the United States. Others may start humming John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads, dreaming of bonfires and being behind a wheel of a Ford pick-up truck. Yet when we get off the highway onto those exits with no gas station, hotel or restaurant we are faced with a poverty unexpected in our beautiful vacationland. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in Perry County in southeast Kentucky, the poverty rate for households headed by single women is 47.4 percent, 2 percent above the same rate for Detroit, Michigan. If we add children under 5 to that mix, Perry County’s poverty rate skyrockets to nearly 80 percent. In Detroit, America’s Ghost Town, that rate is only 56 percent.
How, then, can a region with such harsh numbers also be the beautiful mountains we dream of in our city offices and orderly suburbs? Literature becomes an ideal way of exploring this problem, a middle ground between sociology and art. Unfortunately, fiction oftentimes takes one road or the other, verging towards a frightening reality on the one hand and a lyrical ignorance on the other. Out of a sense of respect and a desire for accuracy, it is essential to do both. This is especially true in an area where stereotyping and idealization have become familiar habits.
The piece of fiction produced as a part of this effort has, at the heart of its argument, two sisters. The narrator and older sister, Nola, is mathematically minded. Through her close relationship with her younger sister Mavie, who is tied to nature and art, we can see both the tradition and love of the land as well as Nola’s steady understanding of success and the hard work she accomplishes. By the close of the piece Nola is a successful employee, wife and mother who lives outside of the Appalachian region. Mavie lives in a tiny house not far from her parents and works in a garden center at the local Walmart. As the story progresses, Nola moves from being Mavie’s caretaker to developing an understanding of Mavie as a peer, equally successful though in a way that is less worldly.
The simple beauty found in the world of Appalachian writers such as Wendell Berry and Ann Pancake argue for the importance of maintaining community in and loyalty to rural settings. The more sociological Nick Reding in his bookMethlands is quick to inform readers that broken families, drug use and other problems that we commonly associate with urban settings can be found in rural settings as well, asserting that the country isn’t as ideal as we often believe it to be. By using the plot device of the two sisters, this capstone introduces two different choices for a girl in Appalachia and we come to understand that there is merit to be found in both of these lifestyles. As there is no leaning towards one lifestyle as better, this ending instead asserts that we must first seek a true awareness of the complexity of rural living before we can take on the task of fixing the problem.