The following arrived this morning from Bill Everett. Thanks a lot, Bill. It's good to be reminded of Lewis Green's work.
I was awakened to the peculiar depth of Appalachian writing by Lewis Green’s The Silence of Snakes (1984). We were building our home on the slopes of Wolf Pen Mountain, near Waynesville, when an old friend recommended that I read a tale set where we had decided to live. The Silence of Snakes is the tragic story of a traumatized World War I hero, Earl Skiller, whose sufferings lead him to a series of gruesome murders in which the line between military heroism and depraved criminality disappears, exposing the two-edged sword of civilized “order.”
Through Green’s story I could see the life deep within these rocks and trees. I met the rattlesnakes that symbolize for Earl Skiller the secret depth of his life. As he told his fellow soldiers, “…I could turn into a rattlesnake in my mind, and then I could come and go and do my damage and nobody watched. I learned a big lesson once from rattlesnakes. … They’re silent in spite of the rattles. They’re silent at the right time. They can do a lot of damage. If they’re silent and it’s dark, then who can see ‘em?”
And I felt the ragged edge of mountain humor. Hear these lines between the discoverer of one of Skiller’s victims and the local physician. “We need fer ye to come and announce somebody dead. Some son-of-a bitch killed Mitchell Sanger. They cut his head off.” “Is that a fact? he finally asked. “Cut his head off?” “Yes sir.” “Well, I don’t have to go up there. I can tell you from here that he’s dead.”
Because of this book, the power to speak of place and of the crushing conflicts out of which humanity is hewed have remained the hallmarks of the writing in these hills.
William Everett retired from 35 years of teaching ethics in order to write and make furniture in Waynesville, NC. He is the author of Red Clay, Blood River (2008) and numerous poems, the most recent appearing in Fresh. He blogs at www.WilliamEverett.com.