Book review of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Mike Maloney
Kim Michelle Richardson’s The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is set in a small mountain community in Breathitt County, Kentucky, in the midst of the Depression. The characters are the Pack Horse Librarians who brought books and magazines on muleback to the families in the farthest reaches of the hollows of Eastern Kentucky. The heroine, Cussy, is one of the blue-skinned people of the area. (The Fugate family in real life. They suffered from a rare genetic condition). Through Cussy’s visits to deliver books we get glimpses into the lives of each family in the area. Each family or individual she visits is different, each believable, some noble, some not so much. Most live on the edge of starvation but most offer to share their meager bits of food with Cussy. Most are equally starved for the reading materials Cussy brings. Through her father’s experience we see the lives of the underpaid and mistreated coal miners. We experience the treatment of blacks and the blue people – both considered colored. Women are portrayed as oppressed but not conquered, victims who are more often clever and heroic than gossipy and vain. I began my life a decade later in another part of the same county. Most of the conditions Richardson describes were still present but not so dire. The struggle to get enough to eat was not so hard. The threat of violence not so prevalent. Miners were treated better and paid more. The question of leaving the beloved land of the mountains to find a better life in the city was there in Cussy’s time, worse in my time and still there today.
The discussion of Book Woman with family and friends has caused me to gather together other books in my library about Appalachian women – Kathy’s Kahn’s Hillbilly Women, Danny Miller’s Wingless Flights: Appalachian Women in Fiction, and Cassie Chambers’ recent publication, Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachians. The latter is by a woman from Cow Creek in Owsley County. Funny how we identify where you are from. If you grew up in Price Hill, you were from so and so parish. If you grew up in East Kentucky you were from so and so Creek (or Ridge).