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A New Review of To the Bones

Good coffee and good book at Joe n Throw, Fairmont, WV.
Good coffee and good book at Joe n Throw, Fairmont, WV.


Bones as Horror and Metaphor


"Horror stories tend to take place in the dark—in haunted houses or underground caves. TO THE BONES has plenty of both. It would be hard to imagine anything more horrifying than waking up in a mine crack surrounded by rotting corpses. Federal auditor Darrick MacBrehon escapes this living death by using bones—two femurs—to climb out of the pit. Once he staggers, reeking of death, into sweepstakes parlor staffed by Lourana Taylor the horrors continue to pile up. He discovers a once beautiful river has been transformed by a mine blowout into acidic orange sludge that can (and does) burn people alive. He also discovers that a gash on the back of his head that exposes the bone of his skull and oozes blood throughout the book despite Lourana's efforts to bandage it—has somehow imbued him with supernatural and deadly abilities.

The evil behind all this creepiness is the family Kavanagh, robber barons who have sucked the life out of generations of inhabitants of Redbird, West Virginia, while extracting coal from its ground. Among others that the Kavanaghs have disappeared is Lourana's adult daughter Dreama. Darrick and Lourana unite in a quest to find out what has happened to Dreama and solve the mystery of the polluted river.

Darrick and Lourana are both deeply rendered, sympathetic characters, each flawed and lonely. They form the psychological heart of this novel, lending credibility to the crescendoing psychic phenomena. The crimes against society and the environment committed by the Kavanaghs give the book its gravitas. Poetic interludes written, it turns out, by the younger Kavanagh son, speak to Nieman's large ambition to lift horror from genre to literature. Spot-on dialogue and vivid prose paint a portrait of a tortured and beloved place.

Finally we return to the bones—in a crypt under the Kavanagh mansion, where flesh melts before the reader's eyes and exhausted seams of coal could be metaphor for the bones of the earth."

                            Deborah Clearman, author of Todos Santos

Cover for the Leopard Lady


A bit of recent news: Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse was nominated for the Roanoke-Chowan Award and was runner-up for the Brockman-Campbell Book Prize, the top poetry prizes awarded for books by North Carolina writers or about the state.


"Valerie Nieman's Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse sweeps aside everything you might think about sideshow and carnival performers of the mid-20th century. Her poems open up the private life of a mixed-race woman, Dinah, the titular Leopard Lady....

Leopard Lady is a truly amazing book that succeeds in several areas. It illuminates how carnival artists are united by the very diversity that sets them apart from commonly perceived norms. It reveals the life of one woman who, it turns out, is more like every woman than may be imagined. And for those not inclined to read poetry, Nieman's writing is so skilled, so smooth, that her poetry unfolds like a piece of fascinating prose."

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