REVIEW: A Coal Miner’s Wife by Marin Thomas
Dear Ms Thomas,
I predict quite a few people will be interested in this book. It’s a straight contemporary with none of the stock characters or situations that appear to predominate in that genre. What? No SEALs, no secret agents, no model glamorous heroines? Amazingly enough, not a single one of those is to be found here. Recover from your shock readers, here’s an author who managed just that.
I used to work with some women from West Virginia. They’re some of the kindest women and hardest workers I’ve ever had the privilege to be around. One’s husband worked the mines for years til he got out due to health problems. They moved from there years ago but still miss the place and the people. So I wasn’t surprised to read about a woman who wants more for her twin sons than a life down in the mines. The other woman met a boy in high school and thought it was love. They married when she was 3 months pregnant and their marriage lasted about two years, leaving her with a son to raise. So this aspect of Annie’s life, about a woman who followed her mother’s footsteps and got pregnant young then dropped out of high school, is something else I’ve seen.
Annie McKee seems so real and down to earth. She’s a decent woman who made some major mistakes in her life but with a mother like hers, it’s not hard to imagine. Some readers might not understand her stubbornness and refusal to touch the money she got from the mines in compensation for her husband’s death but to her, it’s a way out for her boys. A chance for a better future for them and she’s not going to touch one penny of that money now that she’s used it to set up college funds for them. Maybe they won’t want to leave the Hollow. Maybe they’ll want to come back like their Uncle Patrick did after he got his college degree but whatever their choices are, Annie will know they had a choice. Her reluctance to try for a future with Pat was frustrating at times but I can understand how she still has a ways to go to get past her life long view of herself as poor trailer trash.
Pat Kirkpatrick knows he has to step carefully around Annie. He’s lived among stubborn women his whole life and knows the women of the Hollow would rather die than accept charity. He’s also unsure about how Annie’s going to feel if he reveals his long-standing love for her. Since he and her husband were best friends, he feels almost as if he’s betraying Sean. But he’s always known Annie’s the woman for him and he loves her sons as if they were his own. I like that he can understand her burning need to make it on her own. The way they work out their future at the end of the book – with no ultimatums, sudden changes of heart or forced happiness – was a delight to read.
Coming in on a series after it’s started is sometimes problematic. There are lots of characters from past books hanging around who must be explained to new readers. I could tell that this was the case in this book but you managed to give enough backstory about the people and events from those previous stories without overwhelming this one. Well done. Those characters also enriched the flavor of this one.
I think you did a marvelous job of describing the scenery and creating the background for these people. Annie drives a Gremlin – how much more awful a car could you have chosen to give her? Pat gets flustered when Annie starts treating him like a confidant. Guns and hunting he can handle but a woman’s tears send him into a panic. I’ve also known people like Annie’s mother who enjoy their own misery as well as take pleasure in that of others. Thank you for having Annie take control of her sex life and be determined to be the one who steers it where she wants it to go. I think the dialogue sounded realistic though the group meetings of the clan did tend to end up resembling a reunion of the original Clampetts.
To paraphrase what Tommy Lee Jones’ character says in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, “There’s nothing for me here except being an old man before I’m forty.” Life in this area of the country is hard and always has been. And yet the land is so beautiful and the people closely bound to each other, it’s easy to see how some long to leave and others couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. You’ve captured both extremes and given us a gentle love story that I hope will be widely read. B-