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The Secret Wisdom of the EarthReview - The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
by Christopher Scotton
Hachette Audio, 2014
Review by Christian Perring
Feb 17th 2015 (Volume 19, Issue 8)

Kevin Gillooly is 14, and he and his parents have just moved to spend some time with his grandfather in the mining town of Medgar in Eastern Kentucky. This is in 1985, although it often feels like an earlier time. Kevin and his family are there to get away from reminders of his little brother's recent terrible death.  Yet Kevin is deeply unhappy, and spends his first week wandering around the rural area setting things on fire.  His mother is in a state of shock and may never recover; she walks around like a ghost. His father is deeply critical of him and has no warmth. So the prospects for Kevin's recovery seem dim. Then he meets a local boy, Buzzy Fink, and the two become friends.  Through Buzzy, Kevin comes to know more about the local people and places. But Kevin's greatest source of strength is his grandfather, Pops, a man of compassion, strength and wisdom.

As the story unfolds, Kevin and the reader are introduced to a wide cast of local characters and learn about the history and politics connected with mining and attitudes about sexuality and race.  Pops is a veterinarian, and Kevin gets to travel with him to local farms when their animals need help. He gets to see poverty and rough existence. The story becomes a mystery when there is a murder, although the main force of evil in the town is clear from early on; Bubba Boyd runs the mining company, and he uses his financial power to get whatever he wants. Anyone in his path is in physical danger. Yet some of the local community object to the destruction of local mountain tops and the pollution from mining that causes cancer.

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is both a coming-of-age story and a morality tale, and it is heavy handed as both. The drama lack subtlety and often, the depiction of rural life verges on stereotype. Yet in placing environmental concerns so centrally, and mixing in homophobia and racism, with frank depictions of bullying and violence, there is a certain grit here too.  Scotton manages to sustain a consistent tone with vivid descriptions of both people and scenery. Even critical readers are likely to experience pleasure in seeing the story unfold and characters develop. The climax of the story occurs in the mountains with acts of great heroism, and while credibility may be strained, the hints of mysticism suggest this is more of a fable than an attempt at total realism.

The unabridged audiobook performed by Robert Petkoff is entertaining; Petkoff has a remarkable talent to give life to different voices, sometimes making one wonder whether there is more than one reader.  Maybe he sometimes overdoes the Eastern Kentucky accents, and probably he does not achieve great accuracy. But if the performance is on the hokey side, that's in tune with the book.

 

© 2015 Christian Perring

 

Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York


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