Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton: a review

ImageLet me tell you about this book. First I need to tell you that Melinda Clayton is a fellow minion at Indies Unlimited. But I’m certain I would have picked up this book regardless, because the subject and the description intrigued me, and I’d heard about her writing talent. I also read a discussion about Appalachian Justice before I read it, mostly concerning the dialect used. Dialect is dicey in fiction. There’s a fine tightrope act between “not enough” and “Jar Jar Binks.” (No offense meant to Star Wars fans.) But dialect can come off a little strong and alienate a reader, sometimes because it can be difficult to understand, sometimes because it can touch a stereotypical nerve. And, I admit that when I started reading Appalachian Justice, it took me a bit to get into the West Virginia dialect used in first person by the main character, Billy May Platte. But after a while, I grew comfortable with her manner of speaking and grew to love her for her quiet strength and authenticity.

The events of the story are not always pretty, but neither is real life, and the author does a fine job portraying these “broken” characters, laying out who they are through their dialogue and actions and allowing the reader to have empathy. I felt so strongly for these characters, the ones who were trying to get on with their lives after some horrifying experiences, the ones just trying do good and right old wrongs, some only going by the limited information they were able to glean from each other. I loved how Ms. Clayton handled Billy May’s sexuality: it was just a fact of the character’s life, although very realistically for the time period and the community, other characters saw it as a threat.

Appalachian Justice is a great example of how a skilled writer can bend writing “rules” and make it work. Ms. Clayton mixes first and third person, employs multiple points of view even for minor characters, goes back and forth in time, and it all works, in my opinion, to give the reader a full context for the core drama that runs through the story. I love how the story builds in tension and how the author metes it out, pulling me in deeper and deeper until I had to stay up far past my bedtime to see how it all came together. Once I got hooked I had a hard time putting this down. Now I’m on the hunt for Melinda Clayton’s other books.

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Author: laurieboris

Writer, editor, proofreader, stand-up comedian in another life.

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