Excerpted from Long Man by Amy Greene. Copyright © 2014 by Amy Greene. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
A WASHINGTON POST BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
“Searing. . . . [A] poetic literary thriller. . . . An engrossing blend of raw tension and gorgeous reflection.” —The Washington Post
“Powerful. . . . Aching, passionate, and vivid.” —Daniel Woodrell, The New York Times Book Review
"Swift, gorgeous and wickedly smart, Long Man is nearly perfect. . . . As compulsively readable as it is intellectually profound. . . . Greene is a major American novelist in waiting."--Minneapolis Star Tribune, Critics' Pick
“Luminous. . . . In language as unadorned and lovely as a country quilt, Greene invites the reader deeply into the seclusion of the valley and the mountains above. A remarkable love letter to a forgotten time and place.” —The Atlanta Constitution
“This book gives me hope for the future of the literary novel. . . . A virtually perfect blend of lyrical writing and page-turning plot. . . . Beautiful.” —Karen Sandstrom, The Plain Dealer
“A story that forces us to examine our relationship with nature, our understanding of community and, significantly, of social class. . . . [Greene] lends this Depression-era story a moral and ethical vibrancy that we should all pay attention to.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A tense tale of the sacrifices people make in the name of progress.” —New York Post
“Exquisite . . . Greene’s prose is as mesmerizing as the story she weaves. Readers will never forget this vividly drawn landscape. . . . [The novel’s] breathtaking suspense and images will haunt me forever.” —Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life
“Like Greene’s debut, Bloodroot, the prevailing tone of Long Man is solemn, elegiac. . . . Greene allows the back stories of this small but rich cast of characters to overlap in places, like thin pleats in a skirt.” —The Toronto Star
“Greene even-handedly renders this lost and mostly forgotten world to perfection.” —The Free Lance-Star
“Rich and absorbing. Equal parts mystery, family saga, and backwoods romance, Long Man captures the collision of hardscrabble folk with the unstoppable modern world.” —Stewart O’Nan, author of A Prayer for the Dying and Emily, Alone
“Long Man reads like a painting—the kind that unravels from a scroll, with a landscape that moves through space and time. . . . Greene, born and raised in East Tennessee, evokes [beauty] with the simplest strokes.” —The Greenville News
“Vibrant. . . . The novel grapples with real questions about our relationship to nature and the price of progress, even as it delivers a story as touching and timeless as a folk tale.” —Nashville Scene
“One of the best young chroniclers of contemporary Appalachia. . . . Long Man dramatizes historical events that are still controversial today and raises issues that will resonate strongly.” —Mountain Xpress
“A gem. . . . Long Man is so palpably real that I feel I’ve spent the last few days actually living in Greene’s corner of Depression-era Tennessee. It is a special book—a beautiful piece of work.” —Steve Yarbrough, author of Prisoners of War and The Realm of Last Chances
1. In the opening scene, Greene introduces us to Yuneetah and the TVA’s dam project through the point of view of Silver, who is unnamed and a self-proclaimed outsider. What does this perspective contribute to our expectations of what will happen to the town, to Silver’s niece and her child, and to nature? What does Silver’s framing narrative to the book as a whole tell us about how history is preserved?
2. Could a man other than someone like Sam Washburn have done a better job persuading Annie Clyde Dodson to evacuate? What makes Sam more or less suitable for this task, especially considering how the final events of the novel unfold?
3. “Something about her fierceness made her beautiful . . . she had the soul of [some]one much older,” Sam thought of Annie Clyde upon meeting her at her home (pp. 16–18). Discuss this paradoxical characteristic, noted by others in the novel as well, in terms of Annie Clyde’s role as mother, wife, daughter, and niece.
4. How does Greene inflect her descriptions of nature—from the humming cicadas and pine trees to the murky caves and ruddy clay of the earth—to tell the troubled history of the region’s landscape?
5. The title of the novel most clearly refers to the river that is about to flood Yuneetah. But what are some other interpretations of what—or who—Long Man is? Does it ever become a character in its own right? Is it mostly a source of good or harm, as it clearly was for James and his family?
6. When Amos hears about the TVA dam and arrives back in town after years of drifting, he “hope[s] at least one of them had held out against the power company” (p. 24). What do you make of the fact that Annie Clyde, who is his biggest enemy throughout the novel, is that very person? How are these two forceful individuals more similar than perhaps they are aware? Does this underlying connection change how you think of either of their morally ambiguous choices, or reflect in any way upon the people who love them?
7. What religious forces and beliefs are at play in Yuneetah? How does Beulah Kesterson exemplify the gray area between formal religion and a more nature-based belief system that is rich in East Tennessee?
8. We learn early on that “Amos liked children” (p. 31). Did this detail increase your suspicion of him as Gracie’s kidnapper?
9. From the bones buried in the soil to those about to be washed away, what does the land/nature reflect of the town’s ancestry?
10. Trace the connections and loyalties—both intact and broken—between the generations of female characters in the novel. How do these relationships between mothers and daughters propel the plot and affect women’s interactions with men, especially those in power?
11. What keeps James and Annie Clyde together besides Gracie’s disappearance? How would you describe the nature of their relationship and attraction to each other? Consider what James thinks when they are courting: “She had a mysteriousness that made him need to unravel her” (p. 74).
12. How does the love triangle between Amos, Silver, and Ellard Moody complicate the search for Gracie? Does Silver do the right thing in defending Amos’s innocence?
13. To what degree does Annie Clyde demonstrate her guilt and/or vulnerability in the novel?
14. Ellard thinks Yuneetah “had never been of much concern to outsiders” (p. 133). How does Greene establish the time period and economic/social circumstances of the Depression crippling the nation at large, while maintaining the insular focus on the town and these few days? What does Amos contribute to that context that another character might not be able to as effectively?
15. Consider the novel’s relationship to time. How is it depicted on large and small scales? What is the balance of the linear chronology of the present—the search for Gracie—with the larger nexus of the characters’ pasts and even futures as they are explored throughout?
16. What makes Gracie and her dog, Rusty, so close, including on a narrative level at the start of the August 2 section (p. 205)?
17. How is Amos, a man so unpredictable and itinerant, able to execute his complex, thoroughly contrived plan to blow up the dam? What are his larger motives? How do they compare to those of the TVA?
18. Is Annie Clyde defeated in the end? Which character gives the clearest sense of how she heals in the year after the dam?
19. What did you take away from the novel about the role of the government and its impact on real people’s lives, both during the Great Depression and today?
20. How are Annie Clyde’s and Yuneetah’s struggles to keep the land as it is similar to and different from the struggles of contemporary environmental issues, including fracking and flood/storm damage?