Carol's Reviews > The Line That Held Us

The Line That Held Us by David    Joy
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David Joy tweeted earlier this summer: “Just because you ain’t been reading the right books don’t mean they ain’t been written.”

I am distinctly under-read when it comes to literary fiction from authors residing in or from Appalachia. I attribute this to picking poorly from a subset of the best-known authors from two decades ago, having so-so reading experiences and then not re-visiting Appalachian-based novels, as new authors came on the scene, remaining in contented ignorance of what I was missing. The Line That Held Us, and Joy’s earlier novels, among other gems is what I’ve been missing. Don’t let my mistake be yours.

The Line That Held Us takes place in Jackson County, North Carolina. Jackson County has 494 square miles, and it borders the Cherokee reservation with its Harrah’s casino. It also has a 23.1% poverty rate, well above the national average of 14%. It is 85% white. For those who make a living outdoors or in seasonal work, the winter can be long and hard. One man’s poaching is another man’s survival plan for stocking his freezer up with meat to get through that winter. Poaching turns into a mistaken hunting accident. Then a decision to hide the body because the brother of the victim is capable of violence. Then that brother lives out his love for his missing brother by dedicating himself first to finding him and, subsequently, to avenging his death.

One man’s late-night agreement to help out his best friend, because that’s just what you do - even with a request that could bring the law and brothers with long memories into your life.

A well-intentioned cop who won’t let something that doesn’t quite smell right go unexplored.

A good woman kept in the dark about all of this, but inevitably drawn in because. Because that’s how these stories always go.

And yet. Joy takes a scenario that’s fundamentally familiar and makes it fresh. Each character is fully-realized. Each of their mistakes are relatively easy calls – even if they don’t turn out well. As in, each of us likely would have made the same calls under the circumstances. The bad guy has a back story and ethos that makes the reader nod in understanding with his choices, even those which are criminal or at least violent. He’s not a villain in his own eyes. He’s a hero. He’s 100% committed to doing what he believes is right. Joy’s control of his plot and his characters, as he shifts from place to place and as tension grows, is so masterful the reader isn’t aware of it. And that ending.

Joy’s writing style in The Line That Held Us is a bit more colloquial than is my first preference. Conjunctions, for one. It’s markedly different than his writing in his immediately prior novel, The Weight of this World. But the novel, as a whole, is a roaring success on its own terms. I debated the fifth star for a day, then caved. It’s not a book I’ll be thinking about for months, but it is a fine ride in the moment.

The Line That Held Us could be right for you if you like darker novels, where everyday struggles are real, and average joes are trying to do the right thing, getting by, marrying, having babies, still have the same best friend they’ve had since high school, and just be happy. If you’re a Jack Reacher fan but want something different and less predictable. If you want to explore one of the best of the current group of Appalachian authors. If you like noir and want to take a break from reading story after story in urban settings. If you like paragraphs like this:

“Dwayne Brewer wanted desperately to go down that hillside and tell them the good news. He wanted them to hold out their hands and he’d gift them the grace of God. There was mercy in the passing of strangers, in what watched from hillsides like ghosts, in the savage running barefoot through the soil. But the hearts of men were hardened things, their eyes not meant for seeing.”

Oh, and, for a good time, I strongly recommend you follow David Joy on Twitter: @DavidJoy_Author
His feed’s not for the faint of heart. But if you’re ready to open your eyes and learn about the real Appalachia, there’s nowhere better to find it.

Thanks also to the publisher, G.P. Putnam's Sons, and Edelweiss+ for providing me with an ecopy of this novel.
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Reading Progress

May 26, 2018 – Shelved
June 22, 2018 – Started Reading
June 22, 2018 –
9.0% "Calvin stood and looked around, the trees towering overhead so that they blocked out the starlight. All of a sudden he felt surrounded. He slowly turned a circle, looking at the darkened woods, the cries of the last few katydids now deafening in their mourning the turn of season. In that moment, he knew that he was standing in the midst of something that would never be forgotten. . . "
June 22, 2018 –
27.0%
June 23, 2018 –
35.0% "Everyone is scared of dying, but having it held over you like some unflinching shadow, a darkness neither growing nor receding, always there, that was enough to drive a man mad."
June 23, 2018 –
45.0% "Things had a way of never leaving these mountains. Stories took root like everything else. He was a part of one now, part of a story that would never be forgotten, and that made bearing the truth all the more heavy."
June 23, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-27 of 27 (27 new)

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message 1: by Liz (last edited Jul 19, 2018 01:57PM) (new) - added it

Liz I love a good "fine ride in the moment!" Your review is tantalizing Carol, and you would have sold me if hadn't already added this book literally 2 hours ago! :-)


Carol Liz wrote: "I love a good "fine ride in the moment!" Your review is tantalizing Carol, and you would have sold me if hadn't already added this book literally 2 hours ago! :-)"

Ha! I'm so glad, Liz. I struggled with what to say about this one for days, and am glad if it achieved any amount of tantalization. I'd love to hear what you think of it if it hits your nightstand. The release date is 8/14, right around the corner.


Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader Carol, this is such a lovely and perfectly-worded review. I have this one and am looking forward to reading it. I live a couple hours from where this takes place, and whenever I read a book set in Appalachia, I am culture-shocked, in a good way, every time.


Meredith Fabulous review, Carol! I'm looking forward to reading this!


Tom Swift Wow, sounds great.


Carol Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader & Traveling Sister wrote: "Carol, this is such a lovely and perfectly-worded review. I have this one and am looking forward to reading it. I live a couple hours from where this takes place, and whenever I read a book set in ..."

I agree, Jennifer. West of Asheville is another country. A good one, but quite different. Thanks!


Carol Meredith wrote: "Fabulous review, Carol! I'm looking forward to reading this!"

Meredith, I think you’ll be a fan. Thank you! I look forward to reading your comments when you are done.


Carol Tom Swift wrote: "Wow, sounds great."

Tom, it’s difficult to compare this to anyone we’ve read before, but I think you’d be a big fan. Let me know what you think if you read it.


message 9: by Fred (new)

Fred Shaw Great find Carol! I really enjoy stories that take place in NC.


message 10: by Lisa (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lisa Very nice review, Carol!


message 11: by ALLEN (new)

ALLEN Nice review, Carol! Have you read anything by Lee (DIMESTORE) Smith?

Dimestore A Writer's Life by Lee Smith.


Carol Fred wrote: "Great find Carol! I really enjoy stories that take place in NC."

I agree - and then finding ones with a bit of a hard edge is rare.


Carol Lisa wrote: "Very nice review, Carol!"

Thank you, Lisa!


Carol ALLEN wrote: "Nice review, Carol! Have you read anything by Lee (DIMESTORE) Smith?

Dimestore A Writer's Life by Lee Smith."


I have not, Allen. So many books, so little time, as Frank said.


message 15: by ALLEN (new)

ALLEN Lee Smith grew up in little Grundy, Virginia, where her father ran the local Ben Franklin (hence: "Dimestore"). She and her husband now live in Hillsboro, NC.


Carol ALLEN wrote: "Lee Smith grew up in little Grundy, Virginia, where her father ran the local Ben Franklin (hence: "Dimestore"). She and her husband now live in Hillsboro, NC."

Grundy’s a great place to be from, as they say. Thanks for this, Allen!


Jenny (Reading Envy) I've had one of his books on my shelf since the last year we had an SC Book Festival and he signed my copy... that was three years ago and I still haven't read it. What IS my problem.


message 18: by ALLEN (new)

ALLEN Maybe it's everyone's problem? "Too many books, too little time."


Carol Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "I've had one of his books on my shelf since the last year we had an SC Book Festival and he signed my copy... that was three years ago and I still haven't read it. What IS my problem."

I find it difficult too once a novel isn’t being discussed by new Lit readers any more to select it. It’s not new, but it’s not classic... it’s worth a push, though, for you to try Joy.


message 20: by ALLEN (new)

ALLEN It won't be officially published until next month, so it can't yet be obsolescent. But a good new novel will usually stimulate sales of the author's prior ones.


Carol ALLEN wrote: "It won't be officially published until next month, so it can't yet be obsolescent. But a good new novel will usually stimulate sales of the author's prior ones."

Jenny’s signed copy from the last SC Book Festival likely is The Weight of This World, Allen...


message 22: by ALLEN (new)

ALLEN Okay!


message 23: by Robin (new)

Robin Ooh. This sounds quite appealing, and you did SUCH a fab job telling me about it. I loved the passage you quoted. Have you read any William Gay, by chance? The writing sort of reminded me of his, which is southern gothic / noir of the highest calibre.


Carol Robin wrote: "Ooh. This sounds quite appealing, and you did SUCH a fab job telling me about it. I loved the passage you quoted. Have you read any William Gay, by chance? The writing sort of reminded me of his, w..."

Not yet. Which is your favorite?


message 25: by ALLEN (new)

ALLEN I thought there was a no-book-promotion rule at GR discussions and comments?


message 26: by Janet (new)

Janet This book was just recommended to me by another Goodreads friend so that along with your 5 star review means I have to get my hands on it. Have you read Donald Ray Pollack? I'm wondering if the styles are similar.


Carol Janet wrote: "This book was just recommended to me by another Goodreads friend so that along with your 5 star review means I have to get my hands on it. Have you read Donald Ray Pollack? I'm wondering if the sty..."

Janet, my apologies for not responding earlier. I just saw your inquiry a moment ago. I haven’t read Pollack, but if you’re a member of the Southern Trail group, many there have read both and could give you a sense of how and in what ways they might be similar.


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