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Scribe (2018)

by Alyson Hagy

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994209,765 (3.39)12
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 ofScribeekes 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.… (more)
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Showing 4 of 4
Disclaimer: this book draws from traditional folktales from Appalachia of which I have zero knowledge. Maybe I could have forgiven some of the narrative choices with this insight.

I enjoyed the general atmosphere of the book—independent witchy-ish woman living in relative seclusion who magics with the alphabet, dystopian setting with post-Civil War era vibes, decent and consistent dialect—but was put off once this turned into a surprise Romance novel. Not my jam, and it felt inconsistent with the main character’s entire attitude in the first half of the book.

Alyson Hagy does craft a pretty sentence though, and I’d be interested in giving another one of her books a go. ( )
  darsaster | Aug 20, 2020 |
I never quite got into this book. I finished it because it had been recommended to me, but I think I would otherwise have abandoned it partway through. I typically like magical realism, and I have no objection to dystopias, but I just never really got the point of this book and the characters never really became in any way real to me. ( )
  duchessjlh | Mar 7, 2020 |
In this short book, an unnamed narrator makes her living in a lawless land by writing letters that serve as confessions for the people who request them. A man named Hendricks comes to her with a request for an unusual letter. The writing in Scribe is lovely, recalling the cadence of a folktale told aloud. I felt unmoored while reading it, not sure at times what was happening or why. I couldn't tell whether it was set in the future or the past or an alternate America, although it was clearly the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia. The story had the sense of a legend, with a touch of magical realism. Interesting, but not grounded in a reality I recognize. ( )
  sturlington | Jan 18, 2019 |
Set in a dystopian Appalachia in the aftermath of a brutal war and raging contagions, this story seems a simple one. A woman lives alone in what had once been her family’s farmhouse and makes her meager living by writing letters for those who ask. She allows a community of ragged migrants to occupy some of her land. A man named Hendricks comes to her, and asks her to not only write a letter for him but to deliver it to the person it is intended for, and speak the words aloud to them—to correct some wrong he has done, a request for forgiveness . After some thought, she agrees, but the man’s appearance seems to haunt her and he also seems to be the catalyst for other events.

The man’s clothes were rust-rimmed and deflated. He wore a battered straw hat. Those who wanted something from her arrived at the brick house above the creek—the Doctor’s House they called it, a remnant from her father’s time—and waited for her, always alone. She didn’t care for ceremony, but ceremony was what they needed. Their silent arrival was part of a code they passed among themselves. It was the same for the Brubaker woman who prepared the bodies of the deal and the man from Jack’s Mountain who was known to hoard crystals of salt.

The storytelling in this spare book of 157 pages is mesmerizing. Sure, other factors play a role: well-drawn characters, evocative setting, and the folksy prose, but its the telling of this story— which by the way offers a bit of a temporal surprise at the end—that keeps you a captive and only lets you go when the last page is turned…if you are ready to go, that is. ( )
  avaland | Aug 29, 2018 |
Showing 4 of 4
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The dogs circled the house all night, crying out, hunting.
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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 ofScribeekes 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.

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