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Bloodroot (Vintage Contemporaries) by Amy…

Bloodroot (Vintage Contemporaries) (edition 2011)

by Amy Greene

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6154915,832 (3.81)59
Title:Bloodroot (Vintage Contemporaries)
Authors:Amy Greene
Info:Vintage (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Tags:read 2013

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Bloodroot by Amy Greene

  1. 00
    Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins (tangledthread)
    tangledthread: Part of the setting for Evidence is also Tennessee. Characterizations and writing style are similar.

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Myra Lamb was born on Bloodroot Mountain within the Smoky Mountains with "haint blue" eyes, a sign to her grandmother that the family curse had been broken. Her grandmother raised her to love the flora and fauna on Bloodroot Mt. Myra's grandmother sisters were all gifted as healers and diviners. Myra's life as a child on Bloodroot Mt. and off as an adult is told from the perspective of several narrators: Myra's grandmother, a neighbor boy who possessed an unrequited love, her twin children, her abusive husband who loved and hated her, and Myra herself.

This debut historical novel describes well the nature of this region. Although beautifully written novel, it's not a pretty one. I fell in love with the writing even if is not a feel good book. ( )
  John_Warner | Jan 19, 2016 |

Greene examines several generations of a family living in the Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee. I wanted to like this book. It has been on my TBR list for a while and I typically like books that focus on family dynamics and the individual's need to experience the world beyond their childhood framework. I was intrigued by the publisher's blurb – a story that explored family legacies of madness and magic (a healing “touch” that soothes both people and animals). The central character – Myra Lamb – is a woman with “haint-blue” eyes, who seems to bewitch everyone around her just by the force of her being. The plot whirls around Myra but never really settles.

Basically, the book just didn't do it for me. I thought the storyline was too choppy and confusing. The multiple narrators and shifting time frames were at first intriguing but eventually resulted in my losing focus. I kept waiting for the “story” to really take off, and it never did – at least not for me. I was never riveted by the novel and found it too easy to put it aside to do other things.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
Bloodroot is a novel that needs some tightening, but tells an interesting story. The best part of the novel is the feel for life among the poor in backwoods Tennessee. I listened to the audio version, done with six narrators who were all excellent. Some of that success is to their credit. The author knows the culture well and created Byrdie, who is a fascinating and loveable character.

The book is structured in three parts which center around Myra Lamb and her family. It is written in first person with each part having two narrators, Part one covers the time when Myra is a teenager living with Byrdie, her grandmother. Doug Cotter, one of her neighbors, spends many hours with her on the mountain where they live. He and his brother, Mark, have both fallen in love with her, but Myra's interest lies elsewhere.

Part two jumps forward in time and centers on Myra's twin children, John and Laura. Part three moves back in time to cover the period between one and two. I suppose Amy Greene chose to arrange the novel this way because it's mainly Myra's story and wouldn't have worked well if her part was effectively over when the book still had a third to go. But I believe Greene would have been better off dropping most of part two or just including the highlights in a few reflections toward the end of the novel. There were some interesting sections of part two, but most of it didn't add to Myra's story. There were also some loose ends that didn't get resolved along with a large number that waited until the epilogue to get their resolution.

I noticed in some of the other reviews that a few readers objected to a lack of characters they could care about. I didn't agree with that comment. Although most of them had issues, there were some wonderful ones, such as Byrdie. As the story progressed it became centered on an abusive relationship which spiraled down as the novel moved forward. This aspect was hard to read because it was very well written. Overall, the story held my interest and presented ideas I thought about after I was done.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions ( )
  SteveLindahl | Dec 9, 2015 |
Hard to believe that people lived like that in the not so distant past. Best part of the book was the last quarter when she brought all the story together. When you learn why people did what they did. It really was just normal people trying to make their way through life. ( )
  Jodeneg | Oct 23, 2015 |
Hard to believe that people lived like that in the not so distant past. Best part of the book was the last quarter when she brought all the story together. When you learn why people did what they did. It really was just normal people trying to make their way through life. ( )
  Jodeneg | Oct 23, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
In unadorned but assured prose, Greene then takes her readers to the hard­scrabble world of foster homes and juvenile detention centers, of life in a blue-collar Appalachian town.
Greene’s novel is undeniably appealing, in the way its weird swirl of Southern Gothic and bleak domestic drama keeps the pages turning. But the overall impression the novel leaves is lacking. Greene is apparently unable to truly confront some of the novel’s darker moments, and is more interested in Appalachia as a sort of mystical Shangri-la.
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Myra looks like her mama, but prettier because of her daddy mixed in.
Myra stared after her for a long time. Like Daddy, she was smittten. But I knew she loved Wild Rose for a different reason than Daddy did. Daddy loved her because she was something different than he was. Myra loved Wild Rose because they were the same. I guess it doesn’t matter why, but both of them loved her better than they loved me.
If I mark time, it's by their birthdays. Not the exact date, because I forget sometimes. But I can tell by the weather, how it smells outside and what's growing out of the ground. One day I'll wake up and there's a charge in the air and I'll know it's the anniversary of their birth.
“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” {Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey}
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307269868, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2010: Bloodroot is that rare sort of family saga that feels intimate instead of epic. Set in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, it’s told largely in tandem voices that keep watchful eyes on Myra Lamb. She is a child of the mountain, tied to the land in ways that mystify and enchant those around her. There’s magic to Myra--perhaps because she has the remarkable blue eyes foretold by a nearly-forgotten family curse--but little fantasy to her life. Bloodroot is as much about the Lambs as it is about a place, one that becomes ever more vivid as generations form, break free, and knit back together. Its characters speak plainly but true, they are resilient and flawed and beautiful, and there's a near-instant empathy in reading their stories, which--even in their most visceral moments--are alluring and wonderful. --Anne Bartholomew

A Q&A with Amy Greene

Question: You’ve lived all your life in East Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, a part of the country you depict vividly in Bloodroot. How did you imbue a familiar place with such detail and even magic? What was it like to put the language you’d heard all your life into words on the page, as dialogue?

Amy Greene: There is, I think, an intimacy with the landscape that comes with living here. Most of my childhood was spent outdoors, a part of my experience that emerges naturally in my writing. Bringing the language I’ve heard all my life to the page also came easily. It was instinctive to appropriate the voices of my family, friends and neighbors for the characters I was exploring in Bloodroot. The challenge was actually in dialing back the language once I had poured it onto the page, making it accessible to people who aren’t familiar with these expressions and colloquialisms.

Question: Six different character--men and women, old and young--narrate Bloodroot. Which characters or voices came to you first? Who was the most difficult to write, and who was the easiest? Did you have any particular people in your own life in mind when you came up with these characters originally? How did you invent the totally unique Ford Hendrix?

Amy Greene: I envisioned Johnny and Laura first, not as children but as young adults. I considered writing a short story about them, but realized I wanted to know more than I could learn about their lives within a few pages. I found myself creating a past for them, going back in time before their birth to discover what had brought them to such a dark place. Their great-grandmother, Byrdie, was the easiest character to write. She hasn’t changed much since the first draft of Bloodroot, probably because I’ve been surrounded and raised by women like her, my mom and my aunts and the ladies I went to church with. I was interested in exploring, through Byrdie, the stories I’d heard from them about life in Appalachia during the Depression. John Odom was hardest to write. It was difficult to show all his dimensions and his conflicting emotions--to portray him not just as a villain but also as a tortured soul. I struggled to make it believable that, at least in his own mind, it was possible for John to love Myra and at the same time, to hurt her. With Ford, I wanted Johnny to have the father figure he was searching for, but the first character I created to fit that role became uninspiring to me. I knew he wasn’t working, so I scrapped what I had written and began to imagine a character I wouldn’t grow tired of, one who would intrigue Johnny and me both enough to follow him a long way. The intriguing figure I ended up with was Ford Hendrix.

Question: Bloodroot takes place across four generations, from the Great Depression to the present-day. At times there’s a sociological aspect to your depiction of life in Appalachia--the poverty some families struggle with for years, the development of the land. But in some ways the story you’ve told seems out of time--we don’t see politics or computers, for instance. Did you consciously weave social issues into the novel? How isolated is this area of the country, and how has that changed over time? To your mind, what role does history and the passage of time play in this family story?

Amy Greene: I didn’t think about "sociology," especially not at first. I concentrated primarily on storytelling, and building the lives of the characters. For the most part, I kept the wider world out of the picture, partly to preserve the dreamlike quality I wanted to achieve with the writing, and also to portray the sense of isolation that comes with living in Appalachia. Often the passage of time and what’s going on outside the mountains has little impact on life here. People still grow and can their own food, get their water from wells and springs, use wood and coal for heat. There’s a feeling of separateness from the rest of the country. But as I wrote deeper into the characters, the outside world began seeping into their stories with the progression of time. In successive drafts I was able to add another layer to Bloodroot by expanding those moments already present in the narrative that addressed social issues, such as the poverty that persists in parts of Appalachia. Although the quality of life has improved here over the last few decades, there are still areas where lack of education, job training, and access to public services makes life difficult. I also thought about the possibility of hopelessness as a kind of legacy, generation after generation accepting destitution as their lot in life because it’s all they’ve ever known. But while history and the passage of time do play important roles in this story, the familial bond of the characters mattered more to me. It transcends the changing world around them--the landscape changes, their circumstances change, people move in and out of their lives. But their blood ties are permanent.

Question: Magic and mysticism run throughout the book--there are "granny women" who are like witches; spells and potions, including a visceral scene where a young woman swallows a chicken heart to make a man fall in love with her; and a special connection with animals, called "the touch," that is passed down in the family. How did these supernatural elements make their way into a story that often feels very true-to-life? Growing up, had you heard any similar legends? Does this type of folk magic--healing or curses or anything else--still hold weight for people?

Amy Greene: I’ve always seen Appalachia as a magical place. I grew up hearing stories of haints and fortunetellers and curses. One of my favorite scenes in Bloodroot to write, where Clifford blows healing wind down Byrdie’s throat, is based on a story my dad tells of his mother taking his baby sister to a neighbor man who cured her thrush the same way. My mom had an aunt who took off her warts by rubbing a stone in a circle around each one and then throwing the stones away. This kind of folk magic still holds weight here because, for whatever reason, people see tangible results from the practice of it. The thrush clears up, the warts fall off, and so they keep believing.

(Photo © Amy Smotherman Burgess)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:13 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Myra Lamb of Bloodroot Mountain has troubling "haint" blue eyes and a grandma whose touch charms people and animals alike. When their neighbor John Odom tries to tame Myra, he meets a with shocking, violent disaster.

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