M. ALLEN CUNNINGHAM
THE GREEN AGE OF ASHER WITHEROW
#1 Book Sense Pick
Supplying a quarter of San Francisco’s coal, Nortonville of the 1860s-70s is a flourishing empire in small, seeming to promise unending prosperity and a better future. But beneath the vibrant work ethic of its Welch citizens lies an insidious network of superstitions.
A missing boy first brings these dark undercurrents to light. Then young Asher Witherow falls under the spell of an unorthodox apprentice minister, stirring a whirlpool of suspicion and outrage. Soon Asher finds himself trapped in a nightmarish crucible, all the more excruciating because he himself could end it if he could only find the strength of will. This is a lesson the missing boy has taught him, and what he understands instinctively from the alluring Anna Flood, new to Nortonville, who with her raw sensuality and independence seems to offer some hope of redemption or even escape.
In this powerful debut from a young writer of stunning talent, M. Allen Cunningham takes us into a time and place at once gritty and magical, when the future seems filled with promise but where the day’s labor is bone breaking, numbing and always dangerous.
Gorgeously written, historically authentic, The Green Age of Asher Witherow is a novel of tested loyalties, of condemnation and redemption. The characters’ deep emotional lives are complex and vivid, fluctuating from the doomed to the transcendent. As he unpacks his heart, Asher comes to realize that all his early traumas have somehow bonded him to the land surrounding Mount Diablo and infused his life with an inward wealth—a treasure at which we can only wonder.
$14.95 | Fiction Trade Paperback | 6x9 | 288 pages
Late every autumn the rains came and cast a rich blush of green over our dry hills. From then until early summer the whole earth softened and breathed as a body softens and breathes at a welcome touch. In these green days you could climb the steep Cumberland Rise to the plateau west of town and find the mountain restored to its truest appearance. Humped emerald against the sky, its hollows lay daubed in shadow, and at its foot the land flowed lush to the coast. The country spoke more vividly in these green months, like a voice cured of its long catarrh. The land seemed caught in fresh remembrance of how things had been in the beginning, in the age when mastodons plodded its swamps, long before the Spanish came with their yellow grass. The land bodied forth its remembrance.
In this season the earth felt more a home than ever the rest of the year. I plunged headlong into the autumn, sank to my ankles in mud, played in shoulder-high grasses. The country was already green when in December 1870, at barely seven years old, I went happily to work in the Black Diamond breaker.
That place was a hive of boys inside. We sat on slats astride chutes and hunched over a dark current of coal and slag, snatching at it with bleeding hands. Dust stirred thick up to the rafters and the rock in the machine’s teeth screamed calamitously, like a dozen trains smashing into each other at full bore. The clamor blurred our vision and made us brace our limbs stiff. Our ears numbed, but still that jelly of sound went on tensing each wire and plank in our bodies. We bound our mouths with kerchiefs to screen the palpable air. We crammed our cheeks with tobacco to keep the dust out of our throats.
Somehow the monstrous roar was worsened by the lack of light. The few high windows stood filmed with dust, and up there upon the thick beams that stabled the roof only a choked glimmer fell. We would watch that minuscule light sometimes, in the seconds between tumbling loads of rock, when the clouds thinned and began to part in the air. Then the squeal and crash of rock again and the rubble pouring down between our legs and the big cloud dimming everything.
I took to my work in the breaker. The haze in which I bent my head for hours, the black pollen of the earth which coated me so profusely that I stood every hour to slough off its weight: there was something in all of it to which I felt akin.
Within weeks I’d forged a strong camaraderie with most of the boys, but with one particular fellow the sincerity of friendship ran deeper from the beginning.