“Long Man is a visceral novel that evokes a sense of time and place and of the people who both define and are defined by that setting. Beautifully written in spare prose . . .”
Among the hundreds of thousands of novels, both independent and commercial, published each decade, only a very few may legitimately be called “instant classics.” Long Man by Amy Greene is one of those very few.
A tour de force of time and place, people and culture, Long Man tells the story of death by drowning of Yuneetah, a small town in East Tennessee, and of the last holdout against the Tennessee Valley Authority and the federal government. “Nobody could stand alone against the government. The girl would surely give in.”
The girl in question, Annie Clyde Dodson, has only three days left to vacate the farm that had been home to her family for generations. July 2, 1936, will bring the sheriff and the government men with handcuffs and forcibly remove her before the lake created by the dam across the river of Long Man floods both her farm and the town of Yuneetah.
Annie Clyde tells Sam Washburn, the TVA’s case worker in charge of talking her into leaving, that she wants to be dragged away in handcuffs, and she wants her three-year-old daughter Gracie to see it and never forget. “I want her to know I fought for what was hers.”
Washburn has some sympathy for Annie Clyde, but he must still must persuade her to take the government’s offer of another farm to replace her own. Her stubbornness does not make sense to Washburn. No matter what, the lake will flood Yuneetah.
Annie Clyde’s husband, James, already has the promise of a job up North in Detroit; a fresh start would guarantee his family’s future and leave behind the struggle to make a living off land that used a man up and made him old before his time. He is returning to Yuneetah to pick up Annie Clyde and Gracie for the trip to Detroit and the house he’s rented. “He was praying that when the time came to go in the morning she would love him enough to choose him.”
Also returning to Yuneetah one last time is Amos, an abandoned child raised by Buelah Kesterson, an old mountain woman whose neighbors believe is gifted with second sight. Amos, now a 50-year-old drifter, has a score to settle, a statement to make before the waters of the lake fill the valley.
Watching over the valley and the events that unfold is Silver Ledford, Annie Clyde’s aunt who lives on top the mountain and fears the removal of the last of her kin. Silver has been Amos’s lover both in their youth and whenever he returns to Yuneetah. She loves him still yet does not entirely trust him.
The last major actor in the drama of Yuneetah’s waning days is Ellard Moody, sheriff of the county, Silver’s lover for one short summer until Amos reappeared after a three-year absence. Moody hates Amos and believes he is the cause of all the trouble that flares up whenever the drifter makes a visit home.
James reaches home just as a rain storm breaks. While he and Annie Clyde argue about leaving, Gracie vanishes along with her dog. Annie Clyde is certain Amos has taken her. She pushes a rifle into James’s hands as he and the sheriff leave to search for Gracie. “If he’s got her, I want you to kill him.”
Long Man is a visceral novel that evokes a sense of time and place and of the people who both define and are defined by that setting. Beautifully written in spare prose nevertheless creating a richly textured narrative that lingers in the mind long after the last page is turned.