Two sisters, descendants of coal miners, deal with life in the
mountains of Kentucky, in Silas House's THE COAL TATTOO. Although
it follows characters created in his previous novels CLAY'S QUILT
and A PARCHMENT OF LEAVES, THE COAL TATTOO is not a sequel. These
are all stand-alone books that a person can enjoy reading in any
Anneth and Easter are the two main characters in this third book.
The reader will learn of the circumstances of their birth, the
story of their parents, and their relationship with their
grandmothers Vine and Serena, all of whom were a part of either A
PARCHMENT OF LEAVES or CLAY'S QUILT.
As with the previous two books, THE COAL TATTOO is beautifully
written, describing in detail the backdrop of the mining town of
Free Creek and the surrounding areas. The beauty of these three
books is not just in the description of the mountains and the land,
but of the simple life that the characters live. Silas House has a
way with words, and the novels evoke memories of a time long gone.
It brings to one a feeling of nostalgia.
The Coal Tattoo refers to a mark left on a coal miner after a
mining accident, and it is a badge of honor worn by these men. It
also helps to set up the theme of this book, that of the life of
the coal miner and his family. It is a life of poverty and
suffering, but the love of the land, the mountains, faith, and love
of family is what keeps them going.
The novel opens with an introduction to Anneth dancing herself into
a frenzy at a local bar, the center of every man's eyes. Anneth is
the wild sister. At seventeen, she is known to frequent the bars,
dancing at all hours of the night and having her fill of liquor.
She is considered the pretty one and is never without a beau.
Easter is the serious sister, and at age twenty-two, she is the one
who has taken on the role of protector and surrogate mother. She
will never set foot in a bar, as she is devoutly Pentecostal, and
the highlight of her week is going to Church. Their parents died
years ago, when Anneth was barely out of diapers. Their two
grandmothers, Serena and Vine, together raise the sisters and
become the family unit Anneth and Easter would not have had if it
weren't for them.
Anneth takes up with various men, and finally meets up with one
young man, Matthew Morgan. The two become inseparable and elope to
Tennessee after a very brief love affair. Easter is beside herself,
but knows she has no control over Anneth's actions. As time moves
on, Matthew loves Anneth with all his heart and soul, but Anneth
does not seem satisfied, and after a few months of marriage, Anneth
decides to come home. She realizes she never loved Matthew after
all, and possibly does not even know what love is.
El McIntosh, in the meantime, is courting Easter. While Anneth's
love affair with Matthew was fast and furious, Easter's love is
steadier, and soon the two marry. Their life together becomes the
envy of Anneth, who by this time has returned to Black Banks and
moves back home with Easter. The sisters' relationship becomes
strained after an incident that takes place between El and Anneth.
Life takes on a dark turn for Anneth, while Easter also struggles
with some life changes and will question her faith in God.
While it culminates with a stand against the Altamont Mining
Company, this book is ultimately about the love between two
sisters, a love that is tested by time, lovers and family. If there
is a lesson to be learned in THE COAL TATTOO, it is that blood is
thicker than water, and nothing can come between the love of two
sisters. This reviewer loved reading the tale of Anneth and Easter,
and hopes that Silas House will write a fourth book soon.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton (Ratmammy@lofton.org) on December 27, 2010
The Coal Tattoo