To the Bones
Part mystery, thriller, and supernatural horror, this tale was extremely enjoyable to read. It's one of my favorite books of the past year. Ms. Nieman's writing is poetically engaging, and I was whisked back to my university days when I was overwhelmed by James Dickey's Deliverance. Even more so, I vividly recalled a small volume of poems by Mr. Dickey entitled The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy. Fifty years later, I am still haunted by one of those poems...Ms. Nieman's prose reaches deep inside our human condition and I found her descriptions of coal, mining, and West Virginia communities insightful and emotionally moving. And I am not a person who finds solace in coal mining and poverty of the spirit. In her hands, the setting of this story is an equal character with the protagonists. Her description of yellowboy, a river turned "greasy orange under plates of stained ice," actually made my stomach turn and my heart ache.
R.B. Payne in Cemetery Dance
This nicely paced, suspenseful tale, imbued with detailed knowledge of the Appalachian region and the coal mining industry, is aided by Nieman's rich, artistic language and redolent descriptions of a grim but fascinating literary ecosphere where giant cracks open in the ground, ordinary rock underfoot leaks a kind of vile pus, and orange goo fills the waterways. It's a strange, disconcerting place populated by thoughtful, articulate people; trigger-happy rent-a-cops; zombies; and residents who can mysteriously evaporate or be stripped to the bone.
Nicholas Litchfield in The Colorado Review
Zombie attacks and vampires in the wilds of West Virginia might not seem like fodder for literary fiction. Yet Greensboro novelist and poet Valerie Nieman pulls it off in "To the Bones," a parable of capitalism and environmental degradation.
Ben Steelman in the Wilmington Star-News
Nieman, a former journalist in the Mountain State, knows a lot about economic exploitation, specifically the mining industry's corner-cutting to create massive profits. And while the tale is steeped in enough terrifying genre tropes to satisfy zombie and vampire enthusiasts like my young former students, such tropes also reveal deep metaphorical truths. About the power of coal's effect on the human spirit, for instance.
Ed Davis in Books for Readers
Evocative, intelligent prose conjures an anxious mood and strong sense of place while spotlighting the societal and environmental devastation wrought by the coal mining industry.
…her story is a creative mix of several genres, including elements of horror, the supernatural, Old Western showdowns, contemporary Southern (complete with a mass outdoor prayer vigil to prepare people for the rapture), suspense and romance. There's more than a little humor, as local residents become convinced that a zombie is in their midst, and even satire: If the Kavanaghs are working so hard to control everything and destroy lives and the environment, why not make them the monsters they seem to be?
News & Record
In To the Bones, bodily decay serves as a metaphor for a ravaged land and ecological devastation while Redbird's zombie panic and end-times paranoia are the expression of the prostrate hopelessness of the town's residents. While some of the story elements like the Kavanaghs' brooding mansion bring to mind familiar cinematic tropes, the story progresses assuredly thanks to Nieman's strong characterizations and sense of place…
A government auditor (can you hear someone spitting out, "revenuer") stops at the wrong place to get gas. When Darrick MacBrehon wakes up, he's in a horrifying cave — mine crack — filled with bones and rotting human flesh. He's got a huge gash in his head and feels like he's already died. An orphan who's already been in too many dark places, he scrapes his way out and wanders the streets of Redbird, West Virginia, looking for help.
He stumbles on Lourana Taylor, who works nights at a sweepstakes parlor and carries some serious baggage herself….What Darrick doesn't know is he has stumbled into a world of pain and death in Carbon County.
The Salisbury Post
In Valerie Nieman's thrilling, genre-bending novel To the Bones, the richly rendered setting is inseparable from characters' fears, strengths, and weaknesses and from nearly every tragedy and triumph in the story…. Instead of feeling like disparate parts, all these genre elements fit together seamlessly, and they build upon one another in satisfying ways. Finally, like Stephen King's masterpiece The Dead Zone, Nieman's novel insightfully portrays the complications of possessing unexpected powers, which rarely are unmitigated blessings.
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