A CLOSELY TIED SEQUEL, by the passage of something over a year, to the vastly successful Where the Lilies Bloom, this gem of regional fiction stands on its own - a book worth shouting about.
With occasional recapping of details from Lilies, this story develops two new strands of episodic narrative each a blend of tangy realism with poignant, often poetic thoughts and a reassuring warmth. Mary Call Luther, telling her own earnest but never depressing story, introduces us pensively to her "proud and extravagant" land of southern Appalachia where, doggedly working at 16, she continues to make a life for her younger brother and sister after the death of their parents. She harvests the saleable wild medicine plants that mean the difference between independence and the county home. "On summer evenings," she says, "when ill weather has not broken the calm of Trial Valley and comes that pure, rare hour just before the night overtakes the day I am sometimes able to grab for myself a breather . . . it is like promises. It is here, that something offered that was not here before."
Twelve-year-old Romey and seven-year-ol Ima Dean, each wise beyond their years, have to be cajoled into working. Mary Call complains of the drudgery, but refuses gifts from their brother-in-law whose land their father had share-cropped and they now own. She stoutly avoids a "shameful dependence" on anyone but herself.
It was on a summer day out in their fields with sister Devola and brother-in-lay Kiser that they found a "shirt-tail" little boy, abandoned closed to their creek in a coop of a cage nailed to the base ofa tree with minimal means of survival. "Name is Jack Parsons," says the child, and, on being questioned further, adds that his mother had run away. This strand of the story develops into the question of who is to have him: Devola and Kiser who try to buy him with presents, or Mary Call to whom he demands to return after each unsuccessful visit with them.
Mary Call is clearly attractive also to a pair of suitors. There is Thad Yancy, scion of Old Dominion horse breeders, now occupying himself with social work. More likely is neighbor Gaither Graybill who hopefully enlarges his tract of land and asks her to help him decide which way the house he is about to build shall face. Romey and Irma Dean are well aware of something in the air. In an illuminating and humorous dialogue with Mary Call, Irma Dean asks "What's in love mean?"
The romantic thread and the problematic, mysterious presence of Jack Parsons intertwine, finally clarifying Mary Call's confused feelings. When the boy, now legally adopted by the Kisers, runs away, a dramatic climax follows - a double rescue of him and Mary Call from the tumbling flood waters, near which the old coop had been found. Both Gaither and Thad are at hand in a big search party. "It all ended there . . . What happened in the creek that day gave me back to myself. It set things in place."