Reading Matters

Mountain house and contents inspire Julia Franks’ debut novel

Man oh man. There’s writing and then there’s writing.

Pick up Julia Franks’ debut novel, “Over the Plain Houses” (Hub City Press), turn to any page, and you just have to give into whimpers as you read:

“And Clary Hedrick said to Florence Rickerson there’d been three children to die that winter and didn’t death always come in threes and maybe now this one would be the last. Irenie put on not to hear. The red earth and white snow covered Hannah, and the next day Irenie’s breasts wept and she bled into the cotton pantaloons. And the next year Matthew was born, healthy in every way Hannah was not. After that, her courses came every month, no matter how often Brodis reached for her in the night. They had no more babies to be born even though she’d spent whole afternoons conjuring the picture of another little girl. Matthew was two, and then he was six, and then he was eleven. And somewhere in there she stopped dreaming of dresses and plaited hair. You took the dream for granted for so long that the knowledge you didn’t want it anymore dawned as a surprise, and then a relief, and you understood why, come time for bed, you’d buttoned the nightdress to the neck and stared into the blackness hoping and not hoping for his breath that smelled like tree bark and his hands as taut as a rope.”

Set in the late 1930s, this is the story of a Federal agent dispatched to the N.C. mountains to help families modernize their farms and homes. When agent Virginia Furman meets Irene Lambey, married to an ex-logger and fundamentalist preacher, she awakens in Irene a desire to escape her present life, especially her Bible-haunted, government-fearing husband.

As novelist Tim O’Brien (“Things They Carried”) said of the novel: “Franks plunged me into an absorbing human drama of marital discontent, misunderstanding, violence, and desperation. (This book) had me enthralled from beginning to end.”

Franks will read at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Park Road Books. Park Road Shopping Center, Charlotte.

The event is free, and you’re invited.