Charles Davis – Angel’s Rest
55. Angel’s Rest by Charles Davis (2006)
Length: 312 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming-of-Age
Started: 21 April 2008
Finished: 22 April 2008
Summary: Eleven-year-old Charlie York has lived all of his life in a small town in southwestern Virginia. However, Sunnyside no longer feels like home – not since his dad died from a shotgun wound to the stomach. His mother claims it was an accident, but no one believes her, and she’s brought to trial for murder. While she’s awaiting her trial, Charlie stays in his house with an eighty-seven-year-old black man named Lacy Coe. The people of Sunnyside aren’t pleased with this arrangement, however, and Charlie has to deal with racism, loneliness, and his growing suspicions concerning his mother, a wild loner named Hollis Thrasher, and the horrible night his father died.
Review: Before I start the review, a little story about how I came across the book. I was looking for directions to the trailhead to get to the Angel’s Rest overlook on Pearis Mountain, in Pearisburg, Virginia. It’s a steep hike up the Appalachian Trail, but it’s quite pretty, and the overlook is very nice. Anyways, Google-searching for “angel’s rest” or “angel’s rest virginia” both bring up this book as the first result. (If, by chance, you came across my blog by searching for the very same thing, there’s some good directions to the trailhead here.) In any case, the book looked interesting, so I kept it in mind, and when I found it at a used book store a few months later, I picked it up.
So, I’m pretty familiar with the area of southwestern Virginia where this novel is set. Angel’s Rest becomes the name of the mountain instead of the name of the overlook on Pearis Mountain, but otherwise, this book could easily have been set in Pearisburg or one of the surrounding small towns in the late 1960s – names of towns, streams, and people are pulled from existing natural features. One of the best things about this book is how authentically it captures poor small-town life in the area – the voices are real, the characters and settings all breathe with real vitality. Thematically, this book reminded me of a combination of Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s Icy Sparks, Jane Hamilton’s A Map of the World, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The plot, of a murder mystery in a small town combined with a young boy’s coming-of-age, is not a particularly original one, although it’s well told, and I figured out the “mystery” long before it was revealed. The worst part was the epilogue, in which an adult Charlie sums up everything that had just happened, stripping the rest of the book of any hope of subtlety it had possessed, and beating home the moral of the story, just to make sure WE ALL GET IT, and in the process turning it into more of a dead horse than it needed to be. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Not a bad read, although nothing particularly outstanding, either. Best part is the authentic local flavor, but it’s not something I’m particularly likely to want to revisit any time soon.
First Line: People said he was crazy.
- p. 19: “I felt pretty big riding in my father’s work truck, sharing a bottle fof RC and a pack of nabs.” – packaged sandwich snack crackers – presumably shortened from Nabisco?.
- p. 46: “He put my lucky cap on my head after he noticed me standing beside him and I watched him finish spreading peanut butter and damson jelly on biscuits.” – Also called damson plum. the small, dark-blue or purple fruit of a plum tree originally from Asia Minor.
- p. 52: “I hadn’t thought twice since about putting a hook through a worm or a lizard or a hellgrammite or a crawdad.” – the aquatic larva of a dobsonfly, used as bait in fishing.
- p. 75: “Lacy pulled over until I was finished, then drove me back to the house and tried to pour me a spoonful of paregoric.” – a camphorated tincture of opium, taken internally for the relief of diarrhea and intestinal pain.