At Home in the Heart of Appalachia

O’Brien, John. At Home in the Heart of Appalachia. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.

Quite simply, At Home in the Heart of Appalachia is about family and home. However, right from the beginning you know there is a darker story bubbling under the guise of a memoir about a place. The quote on page three is very telling, “The flurry of phone calls two days ago made it clear that my presence would only add the family stress.” Later you learn that father and son have not spoken in 18 years. This is the backbone of O’Brien’s story. He weaves family memories and specific anecdotes of his dad into the landscape of Appalachia. A secondary motive is to make excuses and offer explanations for the misconceptions about Appalachians in the areas surrounding Franklin, West Virginia. Time and time again O’Brien refers to the region as “redneck” or “hillbilly” or “backward.” It is a way of life that is complicated and simple all at once.

Endearing quotes and whatnot: “West-By God-Virginia,” and “I often thought of my father that summer but did not call because of my own emotional tangle” (p 193), and “I sometimes think there is a tragedy at the center of every family that never stops reverberating” (p 210).

Reason read: The Old Time Fiddle Fest is held in September.

Author fact: At Home in the Heart of Appalachia is John O’Brien’s first book.

Book trivia: One of the best things about At Home in the Heart of Appalachia is the unique photographs. They are randomly throughout the text rather than in a chronological clump in the middle of the book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Approaching Appalachia” (p 22).

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