Sweeping Up Glass Hardcover – Aug 10 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The strong, fresh narrative voice pulls the reader in and doesn't let go in Wall's stunning debut. Someone is killing wolves on Olivia Harker's Kentucky property for sport, and Olivia aims to find the culprit. Meanwhile, Olivia recounts her childhood with an adored father and a mad mother in the brutally segregated Depression-era South. In quick succession, Olivia finds and loses love, gives birth, marries an unloved suitor and becomes a widow. Olivia's daughter, wild and ambitious, hands Olivia her own out-of-wedlock baby to raise, a boy named Will'm. When the probable persecutor of Olivia's wolves sets his sights on her beloved Will'm, Olivia clarifies a decades-old mystery, unwittingly bringing danger to the impoverished local community of blacks who've been her guardian angels. As the action moves inexorably to its explosive conclusion, Olivia must come to grips with past betrayals, thereby earning a second chance at love, redemption and long overdue justice. (Aug.)
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'This is real storytelling, fresh, plain-speaking but utterly absorbing' Irish Examiner. Irish Examiner 'Rich in atmosphere and tense as a wolf's tail, this is a chilling, enchanting and sometimes heartbreaking novel' Sunday Business Post. Sunday Business Post 'Carolyn Wall is a brilliant storyteller and this book is a wonderful read' O, The Oprah Magazine. Oprah Magazine --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Though some reviewers found this setting in the brutally segregated Depression-era-Kentucky to be uncomfortable, it wasn't to me. My grandparents and parents were born in Kentucky. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression years there, with my parents escaping the worst of it by moving to Ohio. I was born in Ohio, but heard many stories from that era that remind me of Wall's main character, Olivia Harker Cross.
Olivia is a strong, brave, self-sufficient woman, very much like my late mother and Grannie Sue. I liked and related to her right from the gripping start of this book.
In Sweeping Up Glass, Olivia survives the harshness of the Kentucky mountain life by running a small grocery store which is also her spare living quarters, with sleeping areas partitioned off by makeshift curtains. When her out-of-wedlock grandson Will'm is thrust upon her by her wild daughter, Olivia makes the best of the situation, cares for him and teaches him all her hard-earned survival skills.
To add to the drama of this story, Olivia's crazy mother, who lives out back in a tar-paper shack, stirs the plot, making it twice as hard for her daughter.
Olivia and Will'm love and respect the wolves that roam the hills around her property and are trying to protect them from poachers who kill them for sport, angering these cruel men so that she and the boy become endangered themselves.
It's a hard life with Olivia always scrambling to feed them...always pressed for time and energy as she tries to fight these men by wit and cunning...Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book is a truly remarkable debut and Carolyn Wall is an impressive new novelist. Through her simple lyrical prose and authentic dialogue, the impoverished people of rural Appalachia come alive. There is exquisite magic in her straightforward, honest storytelling.
Other reviews on this site outline the book's plot and themes, so I will not go over that material again here. Instead, I want to explain why, after such an enthusiastic opening, I choose to give this book only a three-star and not a five-star rating.
The problem for me was the abrupt change-of-pace in the last few chapters. For most of the book, I had the feeling that I was reading a magnificent character study--a study of a woman, her family, and her town. I would have been totally satisfied if the book had been nothing more than that. It was such a beautiful experience to be in the author's capable hands, taking an intimate look at a marvelous, odd cast of real-life characters.
But shortly before the end, the book abruptly morphs into a fast-paced thriller. The book was like a chimera--ninety percent slow-paced literary character study and ten percent potboiler. I'm sure than many, if not most readers, will not have any problem with this sudden switch-of-pace and style, but for me...well, it totally lifted the veil of reality and I was found myself staring at all the pulley-and-lever mechanics of storytelling stagecraft. The ending broke the long spell of entrancement...and I was sorely disappointed.
I have no problem with the mixing of genres. It is possible to mix a thriller in together with a literary character study--indeed, it has been done many times before. Carolyn Wall got this mix wrong.
Despite this disappointment, I am still enthusiastic and excited by the promise of this new author. Carolyn Wall seems to be a stunning new literary talent and I look forward to her next book. Hopefully, with the next book, she will manage to keep me under her spell straight through to the end.
You will like this book and you should buy it if you like gritty stories of hardscrabble existence eked out in primitive conditions by a determined, plucky woman who has nothing going for her but a strong back and a sense of purpose. The setting is the Kentucky mountains, depression era, dirt poor. Olivia Harker Cross lives with her crazy mother Ida and her grandson Will'm in a shack attached to a small grocery. She stocks her shelves and feeds her family by making quilts and by working very hard. Her life revolves around staying alive, taking care of her grandson, and protecting the silver wolves that were reintroduced to the area by her grandfather. She is a friend to the blacks in a time where lynchings aren't uncommon and segregation is fierce. Even though there is a story line that involves hunters going after the wolves, the book is really a character study. Although some might not find them sympathetic and might even dislike them, they are all very real, uniquely flawed, and doing the best they can given the time, place, and circumstance.
I recommend it -- much to think about and good for a book group or class discussion. Would work perfectly as ancillary reading in an American History course re: 1930s lectures about the Great Depression and race relations.
Personal opinion: I do not agree with others who have likened the book to the classic To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) as the adult point of view and bitter voice of Olivia, although clear and honest, is not like the innocent child narrator Scout in that story.
Living a hard hand-to-mouth existence in rural Kentucky, Olivia supports a mother just this side of madness and a grandson abandoned by her daughter. When someone starts murdering wolves on her land, this catalyst leads Olivia to explore her family history and to unearth some bitter and terrifying truths about the place she calls home. The novel, both moving and exciting, is alive and haunting as it unfolds in Olivia's own words and as she starts to unravel the past and to understand the present--the reader is right there with her. I was fully committed to Olivia and her quest for answers.
Spanning decades and tracking four generations of a proud, but troubled, Kentucky family--this small and compulsively entertaining story is at once straightforward and multi-layered. Part family drama, part mystery, part social commentary, part romance, and part thriller--it's an amazing feat that Wall has accomplished in fitting so much content into such a small volume. And to do so with so much gusto and originality left me breathless. A nearly perfect little book marred by a bit of abruptness in the final pages, Wall's storytelling style has drawn comparisons to Harper Lee. A huge compliment in and of itself! Unlike Lee, though, and her masterpiece "To Kill A Mockingbird"--I just hope there's a lot more to come from Wall. KGHarris, 8/09.
The narrator/main character is a 42-year-old woman running a poor farm and meager local store in foothill country in Kentucky in the early 20th century. As the book opens she and her 11-year-old grandson (!) get involved trying to rescue a wolf that has been (illegally?) shot and mutilated on her land. She starts telling us about the store and the people around her, and the story segues nicely into an extremely extended flashback that basically covers her life to that point. Throughout we get some ominous hints of things unsaid, conflicts buried but not forgotten. The situation develops rather slowly for the first three quarters of the story; then our narrator becomes intent on uncovering some of the past that has been hidden from her. This launches us into open, violent, widespread conflict, and in resolving that all the questions raised earlier are resolved. In the process we learn something important about how much difference there could be between the surface appearance and deeper truth about racial interactions in an earlier version of America.
This is billed as a "debut novel", but the bio note makes clear that the author has considerable writing experience, and it shows. For example, time is handled very well, with the flashback and return flowing smoothly without confusing the reader about when is "now". And she avoids the temptation to write dialog "in dialect", a common novice's mistake that usually yields an unpleasant experience for the reader; but she uses a sprinkling of "local" words and phrasings that struck me as just enough to maintain the context. That was very well done.
So why only three stars? First, I felt no resonance with any of the characters: I had little sympathy with them, and generally just didn't *like* any of them. Second, the plot relies critically on a device that I could not believe: there is a "secret" here, one that is vitally important to our narrator; unknown to her; but known for decades by every other person in the town and around it. The story as told convinced me that most of those people had a reason to *want* to keep the secret, but I simply don't believe that it would have held up. It doesn't work for me, and it seriously damages the book. Third, there were a number of points where I just stared at the words on the page trying to puzzle out what they were supposed to convey: turns of phrase that had no meaning for me, and that would set the context rather than be understood from it; I just looked at a couple of these again, and I still don't know what they meant. Finally, I didn't care for the pacing: 225 pages of almost sedate development suddenly rocketing off into 75 pages of almost apocalyptic conflict.
I certainly wouldn't tell anyone intent on reading this book not to; but I won't be telling my friends to put it on the top of the pile.
[This review was based on an Advance Reading Copy of the paperback edition of the book]