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'Secret Wisdom' Is Thoroughly Satisfying


Christopher Scotton’s debut novel The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is riveting.

Set in Medgar, Kentucky, in 1985, it is the multigenerational story of a disparate population of mine owners and their laborers in a community on the verge of major change. Scotton explores the epic theme of man’s dominion over nature and beautifully renders his reverence for the natural landscape.

Narrator Kevin Gillooly looks back on the tumultuous events of his 14th year. He and his mother moved to Medgar to recover from the death of Kevin's younger brother. While his mother grieves, Kevin is mired in guilt-- if only he'd been more diligent, his brother would still be alive.

Kevin's grandfather, Arthur "Pops" Peeples, evokes Atticus Finch as he guides Kevin through the entanglements of life in Medgar, where the tension between big business and sustainability has mounted to a deadly imbalance. When an opposition leader working against the mine is found murdered, desperation overshadows reason, and racism, greed and ego rule. Everyone has a stake.

Scotton's keen observation of fathers and sons, sexual identity and communities, land rights vs. preservation, and the difficulty of healing from loss could have failed under the pen of someone less skilled. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth reads like suspense, evokes emotion like a tragedy, and, in the end, is thoroughly satisfying.