Every once in awhile, a book brings me to tears. Typically, it’s because a beloved character dies (Hedwig the owl…oh god…I can’t…I can’t even talk about it…), but yesterday a book brought me to tears with the sheer weight of a scene.
A group of miners–poor, weak, sick, filthy, abused–gather together in solidarity, and slowly join in a chorus of “This Little Light of Mine”… This scene occurs in the novel Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina. Structurally, I found the novel and writing to be similar to Barbara Kingsolver’s work in The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer, two of my absolute top o’ the list favorite books of all time. But the images, the subject matter, the raw truth and leanings of the book were Steinbeck all the way. If Steinbeck had been a woman, which I know in some circles would be impossible to imagine, if not blasphemous. I encourage those circles to read Storming Heaven.
When I did the show Radium Girls I often found myself saying, “How could I not know this happened?” I feel the same of Storming Heaven. While the book may be fiction, the Battle of Blair Mountain most certainly was not. One the critics on the book jacket may hit the nail on the head (I’m paraphrasing), the reason we don’t know this happened is because our government was the bad guy.
What struck me the most about the struggle between the coal companies and the miners was that while the coal companies shouted “Reds!” when the miners tried to organize, I couldn’t help but think the coal companies has capitalized themselves to the point of socialism. HEar me out. In a mining town, the company owns everything from the house you live in to the store you buy food in. It controls EVERYTHING. Pretty freakin’ red, eh? It actually reminds me of the people that are protesting healthcare reform. Afraid we’ll socialize medicine? Whaddya call Medicare, Grandma?
But I digress.
Storming Heaven is EASILY the best book I’ve read this year. Thank you to Rebecca and Jamie for pushing it my way. I’m going to pay this one forward.