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  • Clay's Quilt
  • Written by Silas House
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780345450692
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Clay's Quilt

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

“A YOUNG WRITER OF IMMENSE GIFTS . . . One of the best books I have ever read about contemporary life in the mountains of southern Appalachia. . . . I could see and feel Free Creek, and the mountain above it.”
–LEE SMITH

After his mother is killed, four-year-old Clay Sizemore finds himself alone in a small Appalachian mining town. At first, unsure of Free Creek, he slowly learns to lean on its residents as family. There’s Aunt Easter, who is always filled with a sense of foreboding, bound to her faith above all; quiltmaking Uncle Paul; untamable Evangeline; and Alma, the fiddler whose song wends it way into Clay’s heart. Together, they help Clay fashion a quilt of a life from what treasured pieces surround him. . . .

“A long love poem to the hills of Kentucky. It flows with Appalachian music, religion, and that certain knowledge that your people will always hold you close. . . . Like the finely stitched quilts that Clay’s Uncle Paul labors over, the author sews a flawless seam of folks who love their home and each other.”
–Southern Living

“Unpretentious and clear-eyed . . . A tale whose joys are as legitimate as its sorrows.”
The Roanoke Times

Excerpt

They were in a car going over Buffalo Mountain, but the man driving was not Clay's father. The man was hunched over the steering wheel, peering out the frosted window with hard, gray eyes. The muscle in his jaw never relaxed, and he seemed to have an extra, square-shaped bone on the side of his face.

"No way we'll make it without getting killed," the man said. His lips were thin and white.

"We ain't got no choice but to try now," Clay's mother, Anneth, said. "We can't pull over and just set on the side of the road until it thaws."

Clay listened to the tires crunching through the snow and ice as they moved slowly on the winding road. It sounded as if they were driving on a highway made of broken glass. On one side of the road there rose a wall of cliffs, and on the other side was a wooden guardrail. It looked like the world dropped off after that.

They met a sharp curve and the steering wheel spun around in the man's hands. His elbows went high into the air as he tried to straighten the car. The two women in the back cried out "Oh Lord!" in unison as one was thrown atop the other to one side of the car. Anneth pressed her slender fingers deep into Clay's arms, and he wanted to scream, but then the car was righted on course. The man looked at Anneth as if it were her fault.

The women in the back had been carrying on all the way up the mountain, and now they laughed wildly at themselves for being scared. They acted like going over the crooked, ice-covered highway was the best time they had had in ages, and the man kept telling them to shut up. It seemed they lit one cigarette after another, so many that Clay couldn't tell if the mist swirling around in the cab of the car was from their smoking or their breathing.

The heater in the little car didn't work, and when one of the women hollered to the man to give it another try, the vents rattled and coughed, pushing out a chilling breeze. Clay could see his own breath clenching out silver in front of him until it made a white fist on the windshield. The man wiped the glass off every few minutes, and when he did, he let out a line of cusswords, all close and connected like a string of paper dolls.

Anneth exhaled loudly and said, "I'd appreciate it if you didn't cuss and go on like that in front of this child."

"Well, God almighty," the driver said. "I ain't never been in such a mess before in my life."

Clay knew that his mother was getting mad because a curl of her hair had suddenly fallen down between her eyes. She pushed it away roughly, but it fell back again.

"They ain't no use taking the Lord's name in vain. I never could stand to hear that word," she said. She patted Clay's hands and focused on the icy highway. "Sides, you ought to be praying instead of handling bad language."

"Yeah, you're a real saint, ain't you, Anneth Sizemore?" the man said, and a laugh seemed to catch in the back of his throat. He pulled his shoulders up in a way that signaled he was ready to stop talking. Clay watched him hold tightly to the steering wheel and look out at the road without blinking. He knew this man somehow, but couldn't figure how exactly, and he didn't feel right with him. He wished that his father had been driving them. He reconsidered and simply wished he could put a face to the word daddy. He was only four, but he had already noticed that most of his cousins had fathers, while his was never even spoken of. He wondered if his father would smell so strongly of aftershave, like this man, and have a box-bone in his cheek that tightened every few minutes. He started to ask his mother about this but didn't. He had so many questions. Today alone, he couldn't understand what all had gone on.

Clay looked out at the snow and wondered if the world had stopped. Maybe it had frozen, grown silver like the creek water around the edges of rocks. They had not met one car all the way over the mountain, and the few houses they passed looked empty. No tracks on the porches, no movement at the windows. Thin little breaths of black smoke slithered out of chimneys, as if the people had left the fires behind.

The windows frosted over again, and Anneth took the heel of her gloved hand and wiped off the passenger window so they could look out. The pines lining the road were bent low and pitiful, full of clotted ice and winking snow. Some of the trees had broken in two. Their limbs stuck out of the packed snow like jagged bones with damp, yellow ends bright against the whiteness. There was not so much sunshine as daylight, but the snow and ice twinkled anyway. The cliffs had frozen into huge boulders of ice where water had trickled down to make icicles.

"Look," Anneth said, "them icicles look like the faces of people we know."

She whispered into Clay's ear and pointed out daggers of ice. The one with the big belly looked like Gabe. One column of ice looked like a woman with wigged-up hair, just like his aunt Easter. There was even one that favored the president, who was on television all of the time. Clay put his hands inside hers. The blue leather gloves she had on were cold to his bare hands. He didn't move, though, and hoped the warmth of her fingers would seep down into his own.

"I need to get this baby some mitts," Anneth said, to no one in particular. The women were singing, and the driver was ignoring every one of them. "His little hands is plumb frostbit."

She undid the knot at her neck and slid the scarf around her collar with one quick jerk. The scarf was white, with fringes on each end. She shook out her hair and picked at it with one hand. The car was filled with the smell of strawberries. She always washed her hair in strawberry shampoo, except on Fridays, when she washed it with beer. She took his hands and lay the scarf out across her lap, then wound the scarf round and round his hands, like a bandage.

"I'm awful ashamed to have on gloves and my baby not," she said as she worked with the scarf. "There," she said. There was a fat white ball in Clay's lap where his arms should have met.

One of the women in the back put her chin on the top of the front seat. "I hain't never seen a vehicle that didn't have a heater or a radio. This beats it all to hell."

The man shot her a hateful look in the rearview mirror.

She fell back against her seat and began to sing "Me and Bobby McGee." The other woman joined in and they swayed back and forth with their arms wrapped around each other's necks. Their backs smoothed across the leather seat in rhythm with the windshield wipers. They snapped their fingers and cackled out between verses.

"Help us sing, Anneth!" one of them cried out. "I know you like Janis Joplin."

Anneth ignored them, but she hummed the song quietly to Clay, patting his arm to keep in tune.

The man said that he would never make it off the downhill side of the mountain without wrecking and killing them. There was more arguing over the fact that they couldn't pull over. They would surely freeze to death sitting on the side of the road. They were on top of the mountain now, far past the row of houses. There was nothing here but black trees and gray cliffs and mountains that stretched out below them. Everybody started talking at once, and it reminded Clay of the way the church house sounded just before the meeting started.

Clay looked over his mother's shoulder at the women. One of the women was looking at herself in a silver compact and patting the curls that fell down on either side of her face. She snapped the compact shut with a loud click and looked up at him happily.

"Don't worry, Clay," she said. "We'll make it off this mountain." He could see lipstick smudged across her straight white teeth.

The other woman stared blankly into space, and it took her a long moment to realize that Clay was studying her. She was beautiful, much younger than his mother, but as Clay looked at her, she aged before his eyes. Her face grew solid and tough, her skin like a persimmon. Her eyes looked made of water, her nose lengthened and thinned, and her mouth pinched together tightly. He caught a glimpse of what would never become of her, because she was killed that day, alongside his mother and the man driving the car.

The man's voice was suddenly harsh. "Well, I was good enough to take you over there, now dammit. I need to pull off and calm down some," he said loudly. "My nerves is shot all to hell."

"I'll never ask you to do nothing else for me, then," she said with disgust. "I ain't worried about myself--I have to get this baby home."

"Hellfire, I'd rather be home, too, but this road is a sight," he said. "You ought not got that child out in this. I'm pulling over, and that's all there is to it."

"Go on, then," Anneth shouted in a deep voice. She turned toward the window and didn't speak to him again.

"Let's just set here a few minutes and figure something out," the driver said.

The shoulder widened out and they could see the mountains spread out below. The white guardrail was wound about by dead vines that showed in brown places through the thick snow. The mountains looked like smudges of paint, rolling back to the horizon until they faded into one another in a misted-over heap.

Anneth wiped the icy window off once more and said, "Look how peaceful. Look at them mountains, how purple and still."

Clay knew that the mountains looked purple under that big, moving sky, but they didn't look still at all to him. They seemed to be breathing --rising so slowly, so carefully, that no one noticed but him. He watched them, concentrating the way he did when he was convinced a shadow had moved across his bedroom wall. It seemed to Clay that they rose and fell with a single pulse, as if the whole mountain chain was connected.

Everyone had grown silent looking out at the hills, and later this struck Clay as strange. They were all accustomed to seeing hills laid out before them, but there was something about this day, something about how silently the mountains lay beneath the snow.

It was so quiet that Clay was certain that the end of the world had come. Everybody on earth had been sucked up into the sky in the twinkling of an eye. He was used to hearing people talk about the End and the Twinkling of an Eye; his Aunt Easter constantly spoke of such things. She looked forward to the day when Jesus would part the clouds and come after His children. "Rapture," she called it, and the word was always whispered. Easter said if you weren't saved, you'd be left behind.

He pressed against his mother and felt the warmth of her body spread out across his back. She ran her fingers through his hair and began to hum softly again. He could feel the purr of her lungs against his face. It was the same song the women had been singing. Clay knew it by heart. He'd watched his mother iron or wash dishes while she listened to that song. Sometimes she would snatch him up and dance around the room with him while the song was on the record player. She had sung every word then, singing especially loud when it got to the part about the Kentucky coal mines. The vibration in her chest was as comforting as rain on a tin roof, and he fought his sleep so that he could feel it. She must have thought he was asleep, too, because finally she took her hand from his head and stopped humming.

She pressed her face to the window, leaning her forehead against the cold glass. "I ain't never seen it so quiet on this mountain," she said.

That was the last thing Clay was aware of, but afterward, he sometimes dreamed of blood on the snow, blood so thick that it ran slow like syrup and lay in stripes across the whiteness, as if someone had dashed out a bucket of paint.
Author Q&A

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Silas House

Marianne Worthington
has been a friend and neighbor of Silas House's for several years. She is the reviews editor for Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine.

Marianne Worthington: How did Clay's Quilt originate and evolve into a novel?

Silas House: The seed for Clay's Quilt was planted when I was very young. When I was eleven years old, my uncle was murdered in a shoot-out, much like Anneth was in the novel. Even as a child, I was very conscious of how this changed our family dynamic, because his death was hardly ever mentioned. I was raised in a family of talkers and storytellers, but it was just too painful for them to talk about. I had a lot of questions about it that went unanswered. This episode in my own family also gave me a sense of injustice. My uncle's killer walked. So that's how the novel started, with a story from my own family. Turning this family story into a novel provided a way to cleanse myself of this dark spot in my family history. Then, while in college I wrote a short story about an eastern Kentucky couple who leave the mountains to go to Myrtle Beach and are miserable there. I was fascinated by those characters and wanted to find out why they had ended up there, so eventually I started writing the novel to discover what had made them leave their homeplace. I actually wrote the novel backwards.

MW: This is your first novel, but have you always written stories set in the Kentucky mountains?

SH: Yes. When I was in high school I read Lee Smith's novel, Black Mountain Breakdown. That book made me realize that I could write about my own place and my own family. Until then, I was trying to write stories outside of my own experiences, but Black Mountain Breakdown gave me permission to explore my own Appalachian heritage and identity.

MW: How does Clay's Quilt mirror your own experiences as a young man growing up and now living in contemporary Appalachia?

SH: Like most first novels, it is quite autobiographical, although it took me a long time to admit that to myself. Like Clay, I was raised Pentecostal, only to end up rebelling and going to honky-tonks and running the roads. And I have a very close-knit family; almost all of us live within one mile of each other. My childhood and Clay's were very similar. Although the book is fiction, a big chunk of my soul is in all of the characters. And much of my larger family's personality --their quirks and traits --is in this book, too. I think that's what makes the characters ring true.

MW: Many of your characters have unique names--Anneth, Easter, Dreama, Cake. How did you choose these names?

SH: I have always been disgusted by Southern novels that use stereotypical names like Jim-Bob, or Homer, so I decided I would only use names that I knew were true of the region. Every name used in this book is one that I am certain people in contemporary times use. Appalachian names are often very specific, poetic, or musical. Often they are biblical names, and sometimes quite symbolic. For instance, Dreama's name completely suits the personality of the dreamer. And Alma, of course, means soul. I chose the name Clay because Anneth was such an earthy person, and this seemed like something she would name her child. I have an aunt named Easter. And Cake is an inside joke. It's what I called my brother when I was little because he would founder on Little Debbie Cakes.

MW: What was the inspiration for some of the place names you use in the novel? Some of your readers may know that a few of the place names are real places. Why did you choose to combine actual places with created places?

SH: Where I'm from, county names are more important than town names. Rural people often identify themselves by what county they are from. So I mapped out my own little place in the novel by using my home county name with the place names that were symbolic for me. Free Creek is this wonderful childhood place where Clay could walk the hills and hide out in the woods. But it was also an ironic name, since he felt burdened by ghosts of the pasts. But eventually, he realizes it is the only place he can be truly free. And Black Banks refers to the abundance of coal. I wanted this image of a land so rich in coal that even the banks of the river were lined with chunks of it. In my second novel, which takes place on the other side of the mountain from Free Creek, I've actually created a map of the place.

MW: The religious practices of the Pentecostals appear throughout your novel. How do those religious beliefs guide some of the characters in your novel? Do these same religious beliefs ever misguide any of the characters?

SH: The Pentecostal religion is fascinating, and I think it's at the heart of this novel. The Pentecostal religion is also often misunderstood and stereotyped. Pentecostalism was born in Appalachia, but many people wrongly believe that all Pentecostals are serpent handlers and ignorant holy-rollers. Although I really didn't have an agenda about Pentecostals when I started the book, I knew I had to portray the religion in such a way that readers understand how it works in the lives of the characters. Clay, for instance, has learned how to be a good person by going to the Pentecostal church, but he knows that he can't be true to himself and keep attending the church because of some of the very strict doctrines of the church. He loves the world too much to be a practicing Pentecostal. Easter is the most devout, faith-filled character in the book, but she is also willing to lay aside her religion when it interferes with her family. For example, she fights the police when they come to take Clay in for questioning. And she threatens to slit Glenn's throat if he so much as touches any of the mayonnaise she has brought for Clay. Most of the characters in the novel are suffering from some kind of guilt, and this has a lot to do with the Pentecostal religion. Alma knows that she has to divorce Denzel, but her upbringing makes this incredibly difficult for her because divorce is forbidden in the Pentecostal church. Like all religions, Pentecostalism can over-take our lives, so the characters are often in conflict with living in the church and living in the world.

MW: Readers and critics of your novel have talked about how you juxtaposed the Pentecostal practices with the honkytonk lifestyle of your characters. Are these two themes related or antithetical to one another?

SH: I believe they are very related. I know from my own experience that going to the Pentecostal church is a lot like going to the honkytonks. Both are all about celebration. In church, there is all this pumping, grinding music, and shouting and dancing. And in the honkytonks, there is also the music, the shouting, the dancing. In fact, the same musical instruments are used in both places--electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, drums. Granted, the church and the honkytonk are celebrating different things, but it seems to me that they are very similar in that both lifestyles are all about celebration. While the church is passionate in its celebration of God, the honkytonkers are passionate in celebrating life.

MW: Music plays an important part of this novel. Why did you decide to use music the way you did throughout your story?

SH: A major theme in this book is passion. And naturally, music is the ultimate expression of passion. I have always been surrounded by music: my mother was a gospel singer; my aunt loved rock and roll. Some of my most vivid memories are of being with my daddy while we tolled around the backroads listening to country music on his truck radio. I think of music as an integral part of our culture. In this novel, the music helps establish a time frame and a sense of place. And I think it's enjoyable for the readers as well. It allows them to connect instantly. For example, in the prologue, when the people are singing Me and Bobby McGee, it's an immediate connection. Just about everyone can at least hum that song, so it helps to put the reader into the story. I also wanted to show that people in the mountains do not just sit around on the porch and listen to the banjo theme from the movie Deliverance. They love all types of music, whether it be gospel or country, rock and roll or classical.

MW: Do you believe that referencing very specific song titles by specific contemporary musicians will eventually date your novel?

SH: No, because I used musicians that I thought would stand the test of time, like Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle. By the way, for me, one wonderful benefit of using Lucinda Williams and her music in the novel, was that I actually ended up getting to meet her. I was fortunate enough to interview her for a feature in a national magazine. But I believe the singers and songwriters I mention in the novel will be remembered forever, thus readers will be able to identify with the music no matter when they read the book.

MW: Dancing is also used throughout the novel. Clay comes home from the honkytonk and dances around his living room; after riding the Ferris wheel with Alma, he clogs; Clay and Alma first connect while dancing. Are you a dancer?

SH: I love to dance. I don't go more than two days without dancing, even if it's just in the kitchen at my house. My sister taught me to dance when I was very young. My little girls and I are always dancing. Dancing is a celebration --It makes you feel alive. And I wanted to show that these characters were full of life -- especially Clay. I do clog, and I believe it's the most fun a person can have legally.

MW: Your characters have distinctive speaking styles. How does a writer go about capturing the oral qualities and idiosyncrasies of a dialect on the page?

SH: In my early drafts of the novel, I tried to spell words the way they sounded, and I was dropping the "g" in words like "drinkin' " or "singin' ". Then I realized that the book looked like a script for Hee-Haw. I was condescending to my characters. So in re-writing, I tried to use word placement, syntax, and sentence structure to secure the sounds of the dialect on the page. I relied on colorful metaphor and simile like "she'll die stonehammer dead," or "that's tighter than Dick's hatband," which are expressions you hear daily in my community. I believe that this diction also helps the reader understand that a character would pronounce the word "fire" as "far" without having to write it that way on the page.

MW: How do you think this dialect affects readers--particularly readers who are unfamiliar with, or have preconceived notions about Appalachian speech patterns?

SH: The one good thing that a dialect can do for readers is introduce them to new phrases or unfamiliar words. I hope that my readers will understand that unique words and phrases can be understood within the context of a sentence, and that everyone from Maine to California speaks in a dialect. I hope that readers will come to know my characters better by exposing them to the particular rules and habits of one Appalachian speech community.

MW: How would you describe the major themes of this novel?

SH: That's always a hard question for me, but I believe the main theme is about family --how we rely on family, and how we even create families outside of our family of origin. Clay has his immediate family, but he also has Cake, whom he sees as a brother, even though they are not a drop of kin to each other. Then later, he brings Alma into his family. His friends at the honkytonk are family, too. I also look at the novel as an indictment of violence. I'm sick of Southern or Appalachian novels that show characters carrying out acts of violence without remorse. The way I see it, Clay had no choice but to commit his act of violence. However, he is redeemed because he feels so guilty about it. I wanted to show that Appalachian people are not these blood-thirsty, venge- ful people who will kill you at the drop of a hat without any sense of consciousness or remorse. Another theme of this book is consistent with most other Appalachian literature: the theme of homesickness. I think Jim Wayne Miller said that homesickness is the most common Appalachian malady. Clay only moves eight miles away from his Aunt Easter and Uncle Gabe, but they all become homesick for one another. As I said earlier, the novel is also about passion and where passion can lead the characters. Passion can lead us to a heap of trouble, or make us get the fullness of life. The major theme of this novel is finding yourself and celebrating what you have found. It's about coming to terms with our pasts so we can move on with our futures.

MW: What do you think readers might find surprising about your book?

SH: This is probably the hardest question for me to answer. I think that readers outside the Appalachian region may be surprised by the drug use in the novel, because they may think life is safer in rural America. But it's no safer where that's concerned. People anywhere and everywhere can find a way to get high if they want to. I also think that the literature at the turn of the 20th century presented Appalachia as a simplistic, romantic place where there are only fields of wildflowers and barns and lazy hound dogs sleeping on the porch. There were also a lot of stereotypes in that early literature, like feuding and moonshining, and one-dimensional characters much like the cartoon character Daisy Mae, or the later television depiction of the transplanted hillbilly, like Jethro Bodine. Actually, I hope readers will be surprised to learn that those places and those characters do not exist, and that they won't be found in Clay's Quilt.

MW: In what ways have these characters remained in your life? Do you believe you might ever write a sequel to Clay's Quilt, or at least use some of the same characters in later novels?

SH: They are with me all the time. It sounds crazy, but sometimes I miss them. When I finished the book and took it to mail to my agent, the postmaster had to nearly rip it from my hands. I felt as if I was sending my firstborn out through the mail. And I had a bad case of postpartum depression once I finished the novel. I feel as if Clay and Alma's story is finished and I want them to remain happy, just the way they are. But I am interested in writing about some of the other characters. I hope someday to write more about Evangeline, one of my favorite characters, or maybe do a prequel based around the relationship between Anneth and Easter. I particularly want to explore what happens to Anneth and Easter's parents and why the sisters are raised by their grandmother. That question is not answered in Clay's Quilt. In my second novel, the Sizemore family is referenced, even though the novel is set eighty years before Clay's Quilt. And as I said earlier, I use the same geographical setting in my second novel, too.

MW: Did you always aspire to write? As a child did you imagine yourself a writer?

SH: For as long as I can remember, I have imagined myself as a writer. When I was a kid, I'd staple index cards together to make a little book. I created a newspaper in my elementary school. I was in the seventh grade when my very fine teacher, Sandra Stidham, gave me a copy of Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and that changed my life forever. After reading that, I knew that I wanted to attempt to write something that would affect and change a reader the way that book had affected and changed me. I was filled with a desire to hold my own book in my hands, to walk into a library or a bookstore and see it on the shelf. It still amazes me that this dream has come true.

MW: How do ideas come to you for stories? Are you an eavesdropper? A daydreamer? Do you keep notebooks for story ideas? Do you outline or map out stories before writing them?

SH: Yes, I'm an eavesdropper. I'm nosey. And I'm a people-watcher. I like to watch body language especially. I am definitely a daydreamer. I make it a practice to be still as much as I can. Writer James Still told me that a good writer discovers something new everyday, and that's the best advice I ever received. I observe everything. My mind is always writing. Often stories come to me by way of an image. For Clay's Quilt, one major image was of the three crosses that Alma sees on her way out of Crow County. I don't keep notebooks. I'm much too disorganized for that --I'd just lose the notebook. If I hear or create an especially good line, sometimes I'll jot it down on a napkin or something, but usually I end up losing the napkin. I never pre-write; I carry the whole story around with me until I'm ready to tell it. I don't do any creating at the computer. For me, the computer is just a way to transcribe the story that is already there. And I never revise while I'm writing. Otherwise, I would get bogged down and never get the story finished. I have to get the whole thing out on paper before me, then I go back and rewrite and revise.

MW: What does the process of writing do you for personally?

SH: Writing has always been my catharsis. When I am unable to write, I become depressed. It is like an addiction. I have a strong desire to tell my stories for other people. I pour myself out on the page, and I hope the reader can feel that. I want readers to be as intrigued by the characters as I am.

MW: How important is criticism to you? Do you read reviews?

SH: I read all of my reviews. However, I have a close network of friends whom I listen to very closely. They are all brutally honest and intelligent, and I trust them to steer me the right way. I think writers should trust their instinct more than they do. That's what has sustained me as a writer. I listen to all the criticism people offer me, but ultimately I make up my own mind about what to keep and what to change. I think writers should take criticism as nudging instead of the final word.
MW: What is the hardest thing for you to do as a writer?

SH: To let go of my characters. I get too attached to them and they feel like family. On a more technical level, I worry a lot about the plot of a story. I never want the reader to get bored; rather, I want the reader to be in on the action. So plot is something I work very hard on. I think the ultimate insult would be for someone to pay $23 for a novel and be bored by what's happening to the characters.

MW: Do you envision a particular audience when you write? Who is your ideal reader?

SH: No, I don't really envision a particular audience, but I do trust that my readers are both intelligent and story-hungry. I want my readers to be satisfied by hearing a good story, and I want my readers to appreciate both the literary craft and the entertainment value of a story. I don't try to please or appease certain readers. I think my ideal reader would also be open-minded. Open-minded to a book set in Appalachia, which may appear to be exotic or unfamiliar to some readers, and who would read this novel as authentic in setting, characterization, and voice.

MW: What projects are you currently working on? What are your long-term plans as a writer?

SH: I have finished my second novel, The Parchment of Leaves, and I'm at work on my third novel. I also hope to write a memoir of my extended family someday. I want to write as many books as I can. It is my belief that when readers give money for books, they ought to get something out of the deal. They ought to be moved or changed in some way. That's why I became a writer. I want to make people feel something, to change them in some small way. Hopefully Clay's Quilt changed some people's minds about Pentecostals, or Appalachians, or Southerners, maybe even about so-called rednecks or hillbillies. And maybe they got a lump in their throat, or even shed a tear. When someone tells me my writing has made them feel some kind of emotion, that is the best compliment of all.

Praise

Praise

“Compelling . . . Despite hardships, again and again the family and the land assert their claim on these characters, and on the reader. . . . House knows what’s important and reminds us of the values of family and home, love and loyalty.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Here is life in the hills as we enter the twenty-first century–the love of the land, the fierce loyalty to family, the church, substance abuse, and violence. . . . Silas House writes from deep within the culture and presents his world without apology or gloss.”
–CHRIS OFFUTT
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. When Clay told his Aunt Easter he was moving out of her house, she cried until her eyes were red and swollen. She tells Clay that a family should live right together. Does Clay's tight-knit, extended family enable or hinder his search for his mother, Anneth, and his quest for meaning in his life? Discuss how your own experiences within an extended family relate to Clay's.

2. How does the Pentecostal religion affect Clay Sizemore's life? What influences have the Free Creek Pentecostal Church had on Clay? Give examples of how Clay both abides by and rebels against the church's teachings. How does the Pentecostal faith compare to your own religious experiences?

3. Discuss the author's use of dialect in this story. What words or phrases spoken by the characters were unfamiliar to you? How do the characters' speaking styles affect your interpretation of the story? What do you learn about the characters by the way they talk?

4. Discuss how music is used throughout the novel. Are you able to identify with the musicians and/or songs that are referenced? What do the various musical choices say about the characters in the novel?

5. What does Alma's fiddle and her style of music signify for you? Does the fiddle serve as a larger metaphor in the story?

6. What role does nature and the Appalachian landscape play in Clay's Quilt?

7. Clay's Uncle Paul, the quilter in this story, feels geography and history beneath his fingertips while searching for fabric to use in a quilt. What does this mean? How does the quilt work as a symbol in this story? What are your own experiences with family quilts?

8. What is your reaction to Easter's second sight, or her ability to foresee the future? Is it a blessing or a curse? Have you ever known anyone who had visions such as Easter? Do Easter's visions allow the reader to have a second sight as well?

9. Explain the relationship between Clay and Cake. Are they just drinking buddies?

10. What purpose does Anneth's letter to Clay serve in the novel?

11. What does the title of the second part of the novel, Flying Bird, mean to you?

12. If home is a dominant theme in this story, what happens to the plot, the characters, and the tone of the story when Alma and Clay leave the mountains of eastern Kentucky and travel to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina?

13. Compare and contrast the rituals of Appalachian weddings and funerals in Clay's Quilt to your own experiences.

14. Does it seem incongruent or troubling to you that many of the characters, so deeply rooted in family tradition and religion, also participate in a lifestyle of drinking, drug use, and domestic violence? Why or why not? What does the author achieve by juxtaposing sacred and secular behaviors throughout the story?

15. With which character(s) do you most closely identify? Why?

16. Discuss the perceptions your reading group has about Appalachian people in general. Does this novel alter your no-tions about contemporary life in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky? In what ways?

17. Has your group read other novels set in Appalachia or about Appalachian characters? If so, compare and contrast those novels to Clay's Quilt.


  • Clay's Quilt by Silas House
  • February 26, 2002
  • Fiction
  • Ballantine Books
  • $15.00
  • 9780345450692

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