The Austin Chronicle

Far Away, From Home

Laura Long's debut novel chronicles the tug-of-war between moving forward and staying the same in a small town

Reviewed by Chase Hoffberger, May 16, 2014, Arts

Out of Peel Tree

by Laura Long
Vandalia Press, 148pp., $16.99 (paperback)

A West Virginia native who came to Austin as a Michener fellow before high-tailing it back east to assume a professorial role teaching English at Lynchburg College, Laura Long understands the eternal tug-of-war that exists between braving new land and keeping one's home in Appalachia. Her debut novel, Out of Peel Tree, captures all the confusing baggage associated with trying to move forward from a land and family still stuck in time, throwing in a good but confusing chronological narrative to cloud the scene for good measure. Through jumpy snapshots, the story tracks a grandmother named Essie, her children, and their children as they grapple with life in tiny Peel Tree, a town 20 minutes north of Long's native Buckhannon that's stayed so small, it still doesn't have a Wikipedia page. Instead, Peel Tree carries the weight of stagnation, stubbornness, and a twisted reverence for convention that can't be found in the idyllic Texas towns for which primary character Corina yearns so deeply. Conjuring this reality demands a web of people that'll have you referring regularly to the family tree in the book's first pages, as 60 years of family covered within a town that doesn't evolve can wreak havoc on one's comprehension. Through that confusion shines a weighted story, one of liberation, determination, and the unwitting ways in which we're mired by our own traditions.

Copyright © 2017 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.