Kentucky packhorse librarian Tansy Calhoun doesn’t mind the rough trails and long hours as she serves her Appalachian mountain community during the Great Depression. Yet she longs to find love like the heroines in the books she loves. When a charming writer comes to town, she thinks she might have found it–or is the perfect man actually closer than she thinks?
Perdita Sweet has called these mountains home for so long that she’s nearly as rocky as the soil around her small cabin. Long ago she thought she could love, but when the object of her affection up and married someone else, she stopped giving too much of herself away to others.
As is so often the case, it’s easier to see what’s best for others than to see what’s best for oneself. Perdita knows who Tansy should choose, but why would anyone listen to the romantic advice of an old spinster?
Disclaimer: Although I received a copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.
Ann H. Gabhart takes readers back to Depression-era Kentucky, where community means everything in a rural area and outsiders aren’t quite sure what to make of mountain life. Tansy has been the main provider for her family since her father left home looking for work, and no one knows if or when he might return. She lives with her mother and three younger siblings, and her small abode has now become home to “Aunt” Perdie and a young pregnant woman. This cast of characters is supplemented by neighbor Caleb, home from the Civilian Conservation Corps after a family tragedy, an older man jovially known as “Preacher,” and a smooth-talking northerner who shows up in the area as part of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP).
If you guess who Tansy will end up with within the first couple of chapters, you’re probably not alone. There are no unusual plot twists here. Instead, Gabhart’s book is a snapshot of life in Appalachia during the 1930s. The author uses the writer not only as a plot device, but also as a way of sharing some of the backstory. We learn of Perdie’s history in this manner when she tells the writer about her growing up years. Perdie and the preacher also tell stories that hint at local folk lore.
I was most interested by the sociological aspects of Along a Storied Trail. At first glance, Tansy and Perdie’s lives in 1937 seems a world away from how most of us live in 2021. Tansy is considered an old maid, even though she’s barely twenty. But this is a time and place where many girls married at the age of sixteen. Perdie wonders how she’s going to feed both herself and the young woman staying with her. The answer comes in the form of a mixed blessing: she must lose everything to gain some form of security. The FWP outsider has preconceived notions regarding the Appalachian people. He thinks he’s somewhat superior because he has a car, but a car won’t help him traverse an area with few established roads. Digging deeper, however, and some things haven’t changed. Owsley County, where the novel is set, is one of the poorest counties in 21st century America. Food insecurity is still an issue. And the writer’s opinions can still be found in big city newspapers and other media.
I’ve seen Along a Storied Trail described as part of an informal trilogy with An Appalachian Summer and These Healing Hills. These two novels are about the Frontier Nursing Service, and An Appalachian Summer is set during the same decade as Along a Storied Trail. But officially, this is a standalone novel, which makes it a good introduction to Gabhart’s writing, and a nice read for a summer’s day.
Publisher: Revell (a division of Baker Publishing Group)
Publication Date: 01 June 2021
Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of several Shaker novels–The Refuge, The Outsider, The Believer, The Seeker, The Blessed, and The Gifted–as well as other historical novels, including Angel Sister, These Healing Hills, River to Redemption, and An Appalachian Summer. She and her husband live on a farm a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Ann enjoys discovering the everyday wonders of nature while hiking in her farm’s fields and woods with her grandchildren and her dogs, Frankie and Marley.
Ann H. Gabhart’s Website https://www.annhgabhart.com/