Friday, July 5, 2013
RENDER UNTO THE VALLEY by Rose Senehi
Karen Godwell grows up ashamed of her Appalachian heritage. Karen does not know who her father is and her mother flits from one boyfriend to another, some of whom are abusive and from whom Karen tries to protect her brother and sister. After Karen’s mother abandons her children, Karen and her brother and sister are raised by their grandparents, frugal people who are hard-working and expect the same from their grandchildren. Karen leaves her past behind when she goes to college and works hard at losing her accent and reinventing herself. Years later, she holds a prestigious job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and lives a luxurious lifestyle. After her husband dies from cancer, Karen learns her brother has placed her grandmother in a nursing home and taken all her money and property. She packs up and, with her daughter, moves back to the mountains, intent on making things right. But her brother harbors a dark secret about Karen, one she has tried to forget, and now Karen must decide whether to do the right thing concerning her grandmother or risk losing everything if the secret is told. Rose Senehi is known and appreciated for incorporating environmental issues into her stories which are rich with historical and geographical detail. Karen is a woman hardened by her earlier life with a chip on her shoulder and anger issues. However, one empathizes with her feelings about her past and her conflict over protecting a brother whom she loves yet knows is mentally unbalanced and evil at heart. The characters surrounding Karen are well-developed and it is interesting that several are based on actual persons. The cultural and historical aspects of the Western North Carolina Appalachian region are intriguing and a welcome bonus to this compelling story.