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Over the Plain Houses

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  400 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
It's 1939, and the federal government has sent Virginia Furman,a USDA agent, into the North Carolina mountains to instruct families how to modernize their homes and farms. There she meets farm wife Irene Lambey, who is immediately drawn to the lady agent's self-possession. Already, cracks are emerging in Irenie's fragile marriage to Brodis, an ex-logger turned fundamentali ...more
Hardcover, 271 pages
Published May 1st 2016 by Hub City Press
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Diane Barnes
Nov 14, 2016 Diane Barnes rated it it was amazing
When thinking about how to rate this book, I wavered between 4 and 5 stars. What tipped it over the edge was when I realized that this is a book I will most likely re-read at some point.

It is unbelievable that this is a first novel. The quality of the writing is haunting and believable at the same time. The natural world surrounding these people in the Appalachians in 1939 is depicted so beautifully it can take your breath away. The dissolution of the marriage between Irenie and Brodis is also r
Apr 27, 2016 Laura rated it it was amazing
Shelves: southern
Haunting and I loved it. Some sensitive content. This author's debut novel is excellent. The details are perfect to the point everything can be visualized.
Aug 27, 2016 Praxedes rated it it was amazing
I am so impressed with Franks' debut novel --it reads like that of a seasoned author. The novel showcases her skill and maturity at crafting story arcs that flow into each other like eddies in a stream. It is a beautifully written book and a sheer pleasure to read.

And the imagery is superb, grounded in the setting's rural feel: lush, ethereal, and pregnant with unspoken thoughts. It perfectly captures the main characters' bucolic lives and attitudes. I cannot recommend this book enough.
Feb 04, 2016 Marjorie rated it really liked it
Shelves: edelweiss
Irenie Lambey is a dedicated farm wife married to a preacher, Brodis Lambey. The story takes place in 1939. Brodis has some very rigid rules for his church members and his family and is often very hard and unyielding in his beliefs. Irenie feels suffocated in the life she lives with Brodis and starts sneaking out at night to take walks in the woods just to be alone. When Brodis discovers these night time wanderings, he believes his wife has become a witch and is consorting with Satan in the wood ...more
Kirk Smith
Aug 05, 2016 Kirk Smith rated it really liked it
Dark and beautifully written. I was amazed by how well crafted it was, the prose was nearly poetic yet never distracted from the story line. The language seemed to fit Appalachia and nature is beautifully depicted. Tough subject matter here, oppression of spirit, the bondage created by unwanted pregnancy, and a zealot's passions. A quote I'll share: "Frazier June was a zealot with the tinder of insanity lit in his eye". This could just as easily have describe Brodis the minister husband and hal ...more
Nov 05, 2016 Andrew rated it liked it
3 stars is based on the hope that this novel got better after I had to stop reading it.

I read a fascinating OpEd piece by the author in the NY Times last week which made me curious about her other published work. Like many Americans, I am puzzled by the culture wars raging during this election season, and the attitudes of disenfranchised Southerners and Appalachians in particular. Reviews of "Over the Plain Houses" indicated a dark and brooding novel with themes of religion, superstition, intol
Rebecca Foster
(DNF @ 16%) Entirely decent historical fiction with a flavor of Ron Rash or Virginia Reeves (Work Like Any Other), but it felt so slow and aimless. Irenie Lambey is married to a harsh fundamentalist preacher named Brodis. She longs for their son to get a good education and hopes that the appearance of a USDA agent may be the chance, but Brodis cares about the boy’s soul rather than his mind. On night-time walks, Irenie stores up artifacts and memories in a cave – desperately trying to have a lif ...more
May 26, 2016 Rachel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This novel is immaculately constructed, from word choice, to sentence level to plot level. It's set in the mountains of North Carolina in 1939, among farmers being persuaded by the USDA to switch from food crops to tobacco. The story centers on a couple, the daughter of a local farmer married to an ex-logger preacher. Tradition vs. modernity, extreme religion vs. the secular world. The characters are vivid, the setting fully realized. I was under the spell of the author the entire time. I can't ...more
Apr 04, 2016 Kelly rated it it was amazing
This book was wonderful; I'm a huge fan of world building and the author creates the world of Irenie's and Brodis' farm with such detail that I could have drawn you a map by the end. There is a vivid connection to the nature, too; I felt the seasons and the birds and plants right along with the characters.

I thought that Brodis' descent into madness was also really believable; sometimes that sort of thing can be too quick or just boring-like listening to someone tell you their dreams-but she doe
Oct 12, 2016 Barbara rated it it was amazing
I've been reading stuff trying to understand the hearts of white supremicists/patriarchal guys with entitlement issues, and this is one of the best. The writing is breathtakingly good. The point of view shifts make the minds of both protagonists clear, and the cost of the rigidity of the patriarch is clear.
Bette Lee Crosby
Great read for me but probably not for everyone. Prose was beautiful, but the story is about a preacher who is pretty much a zealot and believes his wife is a possession. It includes abortion + more.
Diane S ☔
Feb 04, 2016 Diane S ☔ rated it liked it
Review to follow.
Beth Roberts
This book is a beautiful glimpse into the heartbreak that is the dissolution of a marriage and the descent of a spouse into fundamentalist extremist madness.

Some of the reviewers dnf'ed it, claiming they couldn't get "into it" and "nothing happens." I always wonder what it is those readers are looking for. This is historical fiction set in 1939 in a poor rural mountain community in the Carolinas. There's no tv, no radio - no excitement. Just the same 50 or so people day in, day out. Working to
Eldonna Edwards
May 23, 2017 Eldonna Edwards rated it it was amazing
This book seriously wrecked me. If, like me, you're drawn to stunning writing with southern roots you must get your hands on a copy of OVER THE PLAIN HOUSES by Julia Franks. Reading her book was the closest I've come to literary synesthesia. Descriptions of the Appalachian landscape kindled a poetic immersion into the setting without any hint of author intrusion or grandstanding. I fell in love with the writing first, which then lured me into the wood of this haunting story about Irenie and Brod ...more
Nov 17, 2016 Laurie rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-reads
Not sure what to is one of my book club reads. It started off a little odd and then I was intrigued and couldn't put it down until I knew what happened to Irenie, Matthew, Brodis and the Extension Office agents. It presents an interesting time in American history in an interesting part of rural North Carolina. Powerful issues around the strength of the church and how it and the powerful men in the church controlled women during the 1930's. Also, I found the added "we're from the governm ...more
May 09, 2016 Candy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book for many reasons, but I guess the main one is because it is set right in the mountains where I live. I enjoyed reading the names of places near here and I also loved how the author captured the "old sayings" and the dialect of the people here. The story itself was a slow build to a disastrous and very unexpected conclusion and was indeed wonderful.
Jul 14, 2016 Pamela rated it it was amazing
I did not want this book to end. Beautifully written like poetry, a spellbinding story about the harsh and primitive struggles of a young woman married to a fundamentalist Appalachian preacher. A peek into the past where superstitions and misunderstood beliefs provide excuses for self-righteous mean behavior. Historical fiction at its best.
Pamela Van Arsdale
Jul 09, 2016 Pamela Van Arsdale rated it really liked it
A slow, methodical read. So much there that isn't said. It's kind of haunting and beautiful- the imagery of the birds and insects is amazing. It will be a long time before I forget the scene with the hawk!
Karen Brown
May 07, 2016 Karen Brown rated it it was amazing
One of the best novels I have read in a long time. This has everything--a married couple who have suffered loss, doubt and belief, a slow-building dread, and a vivid natural world that becomes so much a part of the story you will hang on every word.
Feb 24, 2016 Ashley added it
Shelves: dnf
I DNF'd it at 25%. I wanted to love it due to the setting but I couldn't get in to it.
Carolyn Lind
Julia Franks immerses the reader in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. It was easy to get caught up in the slow agonizing erosion of a marriage, and miss the language and landscape; like galloping through a garden. About half way through, I purposely changed my pace.

"Her husband was still, a man who was never in a rush. He was preaching in three churches each month now, with tent revivals and camp meetings in the summer, and there were those who came specific to hear him. But a strange
Nov 01, 2016 Tina rated it liked it
2.5 stars. "Over the Plain Houses" is a novel about a marriage - about the ways two people can change and move away from each other over time. Since this book is set in 1930s NC Appalachia, I initially thought this would be a straightforward historical fiction novel focused on the USDA Extension program in rural communities. Instead, it's much more of a mystical and literary read. Brodis Lambey takes up preaching after the death of his infant daughter and as the years pass he becomes more fanati ...more
Dec 29, 2016 Pharr rated it it was amazing
This is a superb first novel by Southern writer who not only writes beautiful prose, describes fine details of place, and catches the rhythm of Southern Appalachian speech and life but also weaves multiple themes through the whole. Julia Franks is high on my watch list
Leslie Henstock
Jun 15, 2017 Leslie Henstock rated it did not like it
Couldn't get through this book, and I rarely put a book down.
Dec 22, 2016 Laura rated it really liked it
Great book slow pacing but that just gives it a nice slow inexorable build to the climax. I also really enjoyed getting both Irenie and Brodis' point of view.
Mar 10, 2017 Cindy rated it really liked it
Hard to get into, enjoyed last 150 better than beginning. I'm sure my bookclub will have an interesting discussion on this book.
Joslyn Allen
Review published: https://chronicbibliophilia.wordpress...

Deep in Appalachian North Carolina, bound by the chains of the Great Depression, Irenie Lambey is a paradox of a woman. Fiercely independent and wildly strong, she finds herself completely tamed by her husband and her community, voiceless and afraid and aching to be free.

Though she may be undereducated, Irenie is full of native intelligence and insight. She sees the incongruity between her core sense of self and the woman she has become,
Mary Ellen Lives
Dec 27, 2016 Mary Ellen Lives rated it really liked it
If you love detailed description of natural settings this is the book for you. Ms. Franks paints the landscape of mountainous North Carolina in sentences close to poetry. Set in prewar thirties the atmosphere is more than rural - it is lonely and desperate. But modernism is knocking at the door of the isolated main characters in the guise of an agent from the USDA. The tensions of a crumbling marriage are amplified as rumors of witchcraft attach themselves to a woman gaining her independence. Pu ...more
Jul 13, 2016 Linda rated it liked it
A compelling but sad story of a marriage. Ireney had met Brodis as a strong, handsome older guy working in the lumber industry in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1920s. He's seen something of the world, at least compared to the boys she's known around her home. But what seemed so attractive about him has faded by 1939. Nearly dying in a work accident, left with a mangled foot, he's found religion--the culture of independent fundamentalism of the area. He aspires to become a preacher, and ...more
Kristian Wilson
Jun 12, 2016 Kristian Wilson rated it it was amazing

When a USDA agent comes to call on a small village in the mountains of North Carolina, the wife of the local preacher seizes on a chance for their gifted son to receive a better education at a school in the city. That's the gist of Julia Franks' Over the Plain Houses, but the novel reaches beyond this straightforward premise to cover one woman's struggle for independence in Depression-era Appalachia.

Brodis Lambey is a late-in-life fundamentalist preacher who demands absolute obedience from his w

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