PEN/HEMINGWAY AWARD FOR DEBUT NOVEL FINALIST Goshen Road Bonnie Proudfoot January 2020 ISBN: 978-0-8040-1223-2 PB: $19.95 Purchase here
Goshen Road by Bonnie Proudfoot tells the story of two sisters, Dessie and Billie, who live in rural Appalachia. It takes place from 1967, when they are in high school and junior high, until 1992, when their children are around that age.
This book captured me from the get-go. I cared about Lux Cranfield right away and felt the plot tension through his predicaments. It was 1967—would he get drafted into the Vietnam War? He had evidently dropped out of high school. How would he support himself? How bad was his injury, and how would that affect his life? Why was he going after Dessie, a girl from a family his father despised?
Bonnie Proudfoot is exceptional at setting the scene, so I felt like I could envision what was happening. Proudfoot’s greatest strength is how she puts her words together. Just one of Proudfoot’s sentences can go a long way towards giving the reader a feel for her characters: Lux “practiced downshifting his Jeep into second gear with his left hand while letting go of the steering wheel, resting his right hand on the knee of the girl sitting next to him, not lugging the engine or spilling an open can of Iron City.” As another example, this is how Lissy, the daughter of Lux and Dessie, sums up the relationship between her mom and dad, “After all these years, I thought, keeping the anger and the love twisted around each other like two tangled vines, honeysuckle and greenbrier, clinging to each other.”
If somebody asks you, “Why don’t working class Appalachians just move somewhere they can get a good job,” tell them to read this book. They will probably enjoy it, and they will come away with an answer to their question.
George Brosi is an activist, writer, bookseller, and founder of Appalachian Mountain Books. He is the coeditor of Jesse Stuart: The Man and His Books for the Jesse Stuart Foundation, No Lonesome Road: The Prose and Poetry of Don West, and Appalachian Gateway: An Anthology of Contemporary Stories and Poetry. He’s currently working on a memoir about his lifelong dedication to defeating warmongering, racism, and poverty.