Family sagas don’t get much more lyrical and expansive than Amy Greene’s remarkable Bloodroot. The setting of this haunting story plays more than a minor role; the essence of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee is vital to the life and outcomes of the characters. The story weaves itself around Myra, a girl who is as much of the mountains as the rocks and the trees, and her home, Bloodroot Mountain. We are told the intertwining stories of Myra’s grandmother, Byrdie, and the mountain magic she posses. Then we learn of Myra’s mother’s fate, which leads into Myra’s herself. Finally we follow the path of Myra’s twin children, Laura and Johnny, as they try to understand their mother and how the family’s story culminated in them.
The story is told by multiple narrators through the generations. I first felt the story was slow and plodding; the first narrator was a young man who had been sweet on Myra when they were children and adolescents. And after that was Birdie, the grandmother who must explain the history of the generations preceding Myra’s story. This portion was necessary to set up the story that was to come, and so while slow to start it was important for the rest of the saga.
Myra as a character is enchanting, frustrating, maddening, awe-inspiring, brave, and cowardly at different times throughout the story. It is what made her a truly realistic character instead of a stereotype. And while Appalachian stories can fall into the trap of stereotype, this story presented both the beauty and the hardships of this section of America. Better than the characters however, is Greene’s writing. The landscape jumps off the page. The reader can picture every ridge, every path, every home; can smell every tree and every town, and can hear every voice and every thought. The descriptions are what make this exceptional storytelling, and even if the characters were half as interesting this would be a lovely story. But because the characters are remarkable themselves, Bloodroot becomes more than that and is a wonderful American family saga.