One of Burke's earlier novels, is stark and unrelenting in it's honest depiction of the plight of a young Kentucky miner. I did not feel the story quite as fully realized as the later Dave Robicheaux detective novels, but it was haunting and evocative all the same.
The young miner, age 17, has been reared in the Cumberland Gap area of Kentucky. Raised in stark beauty and crushing poverty, he yearns for something more. I won't ruin the story by giving away too much, but there is alot of heartache then ultimate triumph.
Nothing candy-coated with Burke. We are made to feel the loss of loved ones, the terrible violence of the mines, the hard-scrabble existance and the brief, happy moments in an otherwise dark tale. Not light reading, this slim volume will make you pause and reflect.
Very good story, but definitely early James Lee Burke. The main character is strongly done, but some of the secondary characters could use more depth. It is interesting to see the development of the young James. Toward the end of the novel the humanity of the central characters is displayed amidst a brutal conflict, with vicious acts by both sides of the conflict. In the end it is vintage James Lee Burke with his clear view of a flawed, moral man attempting to walk his own path through the craters of his families and communities circumstances. Well worth the read.
Perry Woodson Hatfield James is a seventeen-year-old boy who is a mine worker in Harlan County, Kentucky. He takes pride in his heritage being a Hatfield and a distant relation to Frank James.
At the start of the story he's with three other minors who plant an explosion that would shut down a mine currently hiring scabs. These men are non-union and take the job and pay of union employees who feel the scabs are taking food off their tables.
As the minors go on strike and there's no work, Perry joins the job corps and we see him mature as a man. He makes mistakes but owns up to them and has a bright future.
A letter arrives that Perry's father was injured in an explosion. Union members were at a meeting in a school house and someone set off a bomb. With the injury to his father, Perry vows revenge. It seems to this reader that the Hatfield blood is making itself known. We feel empathy for him and hope that he doesn't throw his life away.
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