Cover image for Scribe
Title:
Scribe
ISBN:
9781555978181
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Minneapolis, Minnesota : Graywolf Press, [2018]

©2018
Physical Description:
157 pages ; 21 cm
Summary:
"A haunting, evocative tale about the power of storytelling. A brutal civil war has ravaged the country, and contagious fevers have decimated the population. Abandoned farmhouses litter the isolated mountain valleys and shady hollows. The economy has been reduced to barter and trade. In this craggy, unwelcoming world, the central character of Scribe ekes out a lonely living on the family farmstead where she was raised and where her sister met an untimely end. She lets a migrant group known as the Uninvited set up temporary camps on her land, and maintains an uneasy peace with her cagey neighbors and the local enforcer. She has learned how to make paper and ink, and she has become known for her letter-writing skills, which she exchanges for tobacco, firewood, and other scarce resources. An unusual request for a letter from a man with hidden motivations unleashes the ghosts of her troubled past and sets off a series of increasingly calamitous events that culminate in a harrowing journey to a crossroads. Drawing on traditional folktales and the history and culture of Appalachia, Alyson Hagy has crafted a gripping, swiftly plotted novel that touches on pressing issues of our time--migration, pandemic disease, the rise of authoritarianism--and makes a compelling case for the power of stories to both show us the world and transform it."--Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

A haunting, evocative tale about the power of storytelling

A brutal civil war has ravaged the country, and contagious fevers have decimated the population. Abandoned farmhouses litter the isolated mountain valleys and shady hollows. The economy has been reduced to barter and trade.

In this craggy, unwelcoming world, the central character of Scribe ekes out a lonely living on the family farmstead where she was raised and where her sister met an untimely end. She lets a migrant group known as the Uninvited set up temporary camps on her land, and maintains an uneasy peace with her cagey neighbors and the local enforcer. She has learned how to make paper and ink, and she has become known for her letter-writing skills, which she exchanges for tobacco, firewood, and other scarce resources. An unusual request for a letter from a man with hidden motivations unleashes the ghosts of her troubled past and sets off a series of increasingly calamitous events that culminate in a harrowing journey to a crossroads.

Drawing on traditional folktales and the history and culture of Appalachia, Alyson Hagy has crafted a gripping, swiftly plotted novel that touches on pressing issues of our time--migration, pandemic disease, the rise of authoritarianism--and makes a compelling case for the power of stories to both show us the world and transform it.


Author Notes

Alyson Hagy was raised on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She is the author of seven previous works of fiction, most recently Boleto . She lives in Laramie, Wyoming.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Hagy (Boleto) probes the weight of responsibility and the desperation of survival in a deteriorated society in this evocative, opaque tale. The unnamed protagonist once wrote letters for the survivors of an unexplained war and collapse of civilization. In the new, mostly illiterate world, her writings held strange powers of persuasion and absolution. Now she hosts the Uninvited-a nomadic population that worships her deceased sister's healing gifts-in the fields around her secluded home and remains mostly uninvolved with the local power squabbles. When Hendricks, a strange man bearing signs of a dark past, arrives to request a letter detailing his sins, she squashes her natural suspicion of strangers and agrees to his request. Her work on this catalogue of misdeeds leads to a mesmeric blending of memory and hallucination that dredges up the protagonist's guilt over her sister's death and the desperate things she's done to survive. Then, Hendricks seemingly accidentally kills an Uninvited child the protagonist dotes on, and the repercussions threaten to engulf her tenuous control over her land. Compelled by her hallucinations and attraction to Hendricks to fulfill her promise, the letter writer requests permission from local enforcer Billy Kingery for safe passage to deliver Hendricks's letter, and Billy's sabotage leads to a violent, disturbing conclusion involving more slippages between reality and dreams. The vagueness of setting, supernatural elements, and only partially revealed histories amp up the eeriness of this disquieting novel. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Hagy's follow up to Boleto (2013) is set in a world ravaged first by civil war and then by fever. The survivors live off the land and the special skills they possess. The unnamed main character is sustained by her ability to write. She lives in her family's farmhouse, kept company by a trio of mangy dogs and the memory of her dead sister. And then a man named Hendricks steps onto her land, asking her not only to write a letter for him, filled with the confessions of his misdeeds, but to deliver it, as well. Reluctant to leave her home but in need of supplies, she agrees. It's a decision that leads her into unexpected conflict with her neighbors, from a wandering group known as the Uninvited to the dangerous local kingpin, and forces her to confront her complicated emotions about her sister's death. Taut and tense, with both a dreamlike quality and a strong sense of place, Hagy's brief but powerful tale will indelibly haunt readers long after the final page is turned.--Kristine Huntley Copyright 2018 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

AMERICAN LITERATURE NEEDS modernization, pronto. We need female lead characters and female voices, not only to rectify the male skew created by centuries of gender inequality, but also because women make supreme heroes, and it is high time we recognize that fact. In "Scribe," a slim and dense novel about an American dystopia, Alyson Hagy gives us both. Stories have always had the power to shape and transform our world. But Hagy understands that, in order for this to happen, stories must be relevant to and reflective of their times. In oral storytelling traditions, including the Appalachian Jack tales Hagy evokes here, story is understood not as a museum specimen but as a living, growing organism, constantly cultivated to serve both the cultural needs and the idiom of the moment. In nonliterate societies, minstrels occupy a place of power, both as guards of the people's history and remodelers of the myths they tell. The protagonist of "Scribe" is a refreshing version of this ancient archetype, largely because she is a she. The sole unnamed character in the novel (a fact that emphasizes her mythic status and role as an " Every worn an"), she survives in a future post-civil-war society in the wilds of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, eking out an existence however she can. And what she can do is read and write, skills lost by the rest of the war- and disease-ravaged population. These huddled masses, "the Uninvited," live like "grizzled human weeds" in the hills around her, reduced to a Neanderthal-level existence, trapped in violent feuds under the prevailing law of "take or be taken." They come to her when they need letters, and she writes them, especially "on behalf of the guilty and possessed," as trade for essentials: firewood, tobacco, sometimes sex. The novel ignites when a mysterious man named Hendricks seeks her services. Her martyred sister's ghost appears, time starts behaving strangely and all these lives entangle. Around them, the Uninvited's feud escalates, building to a conflict orchestrated by a nefarious merchant ruler named Billy Kingery, who holds a vicious vendetta against the protagonist. The violated female body is a running theme; the protagonist reveals past traumas to Hendricks, and her wounds accentuate the healing power of the missives she writes. A central pun: The chapters are named for the elements of a letter, the longest being "Body." As it becomes clear that the scribe's work serves not only as communication but as medicine for the terrorized people, word becomes flesh and vice versa. As befits this allegory, the prose is sensuous. This is a novel written in dreamily violent language: "He paused just long enough to show her the sleek, fat maggot of his tongue." The violence is not solely stylistic; entering Hagy's brutalized America, the reader must be prepared for a society where life has no value. Hagy goes to great lengths to decontextualize her narrative and de-linearize time, both to underscore the perennial aspects of human nature and to create a mythlike atmosphere for her patchwork of retold tales and war lore. Unfortunately, these methods can amplify reader disorientation. In better moments, the blurred landscape and timescape allow the language to become as lulling as an incantation. "Scribe," which begins with the baying of hounds and ends with silence, reminds us on every page that humans remain the storytelling animal, and that therein might lie our salvation. But the book's momentum derives from the relationship between the protagonist and Hendricks. Camped out and under siege, they are buoyed above the blood and filth of a war-torn America by a force even more powerful than story: love. Will our hero save her beloved and everyone else? In this brave new world, a woman with a pen may prove mightier than a man with a sword. LYDIA peelle teaches in the Mountainview low-residency M.F.A. program at Southern New Hampshire University. She is the author, most recently, of the novel "The Midnight Cool."


Library Journal Review

In her latest novel, Hagy (Boleto) departs from Wyoming, the locale of several of her earlier works, for a postapocalyptic world. The rural Virginia setting is recognizable, but is this the Civil War unfolding or a future cataclysm that resembles it? In this harrowing new world, sickness and societal unrest have ravaged the populace. The scribe-a witchlike woman whose writing has magical redemptive qualities-lives in the ruins of a plantation house. A large, unruly band of squatters camps on her land, riling her hostile neighbors, when a mysterious man arrives and asks her to write a letter in exchange for some scarce goods she needs. Complications arise between the two, and a journey ensues that takes the women into a dark and painful past. Hagy's narrative is hauntingly lyrical even as she leaves the details of this world vague, which contributes to its ominous sensibility. VERDICT More epic prose poem than sf, this slender, affecting meditation on grief and death, with a flavoring of Appalachian folklore stirred in, will appeal to readers of literary fiction and finely crafted prose.-Reba Leiding, emeritus, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.