In Brier Country, Elaine Fowler Palencia returns to Blue Valley, the fictional locale in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky that is the focus of her highly acclaimed Small Caucasian Woman. Blue Valley is a small community--a town where little goes on "except what is left out of history books"--and most of its residents are "brierhoppers," as folks from Appalachia are sometimes known north of the Ohio River. Reuniting readers with characters from her first collection, Palencia continues to map her uniquely poignant territory in these sixteen new stories.
A criminal on the lam in "Waiting for Snow" tries to make up for past transgressions even as the police are closing in. Years later, in "Emus," the retired cop who was part of the chase clears his own conscience. In "Guard Your Man," a high school physical-education teacher works to bring back women's basketball, which was outlawed for forty years in Kentucky. Through the eyes and minds of these various characters, we learn that people in Blue Valley are far more engaging and complex than they originally appear to be.
We also learn that Blue Valley has a small college. It is here we meet Julia Bone, a haughty professor from Alabama who feels she is too good to live in Kentucky; here we eavesdrop on the private journal kept by Fenwick Radnor, the dictatorial college president; and here we search the science building for a set of embalmed fetuses that haunts the dreams of a former resident of Blue Valley. Throughout these new tales, the supernatural realm hovers behind the curtain of daily life, as in the stories of a nurse who performs a secret function in a city hospital, the eerie automobile journey of an aging salesman making his last trip, and the power of a grouping of trees known as the Three Graces.
Praised by James McConkey as "unique and yet part of an American tradition that includes . . . the fiction of Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor, and reaches back to Mark Twain," Palencia is known for her trademark wit, ear for dialogue, and sense of place--all of which make Brier Country a welcome addition to the folklore of Blue Valley.
Elaine Fowler Palencia, a freelance writer and editor living in Champaign, Illinois, grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee. Her short stories have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Chattahoochee Review, and other literary magazines.