April 2001

Piecing together a debut to treasure

By Silas House
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Before videos, camcorders and digital cameras, there was the quilt. Not the quilts made of store-bought fabric, but those fashioned from necessity made from remnants of fabric that touched the family a piece of mother's Sunday dress, a sample of brother's shirt, a square from the curtain that hung over the kitchen window. Once these pieces, these scraps, were stitched together in a new configuration to make a whole, the quilt became a kind of family album a record of the past not in film, but in fabric.

In Clay's Quilt, Silas House's spirited debut novel set in the hills and hollows of Southern Appalachia, Clay Sizemore grows up knowing there are pieces missing from the story of his past. He has some snippets of memory of his life-loving, nurturing mother, but she died (was murdered) when he was only three years old, and he never knew his father. Clay comes into young adulthood still haunted by the unanswered questions of his parentage, despite the love and support he receives from his close-knit, colorful Kentucky family. While he struggles to understand himself and to piece together his own life story from bits of memory and handed-down family history, his Uncle Paul, the family quilter, is painstakingly creating a family album made of cloth, a quilt that will not only serve Clay as a keepsake, but as an enduring source of warmth and comfort.

With unobtrusive skill, House reveals the hidden complexities of simple rural life. A mail carrier and resident of a small Kentucky town himself, House creates compelling, authentic characters and paints the landscape in Clay's Quilt with a sure and gentle brush. A lot of living is going on beyond the humble walls of the tin-roofed frame houses, and while his characters are not perfect people, they are three-dimensional personalities whose lives are imbued with passion sexual passion, religious passion, passion for life, for family, for the land they call home, for music, dancing and fighting. Sometimes, sadly, these passions lead to shattering violence, and when violence shreds his world apart for the second time in his young life, Clay has a hard time holding onto his sanity. But with the help of the beautiful, exuberant fiddle-player, Alma, his beer-drinking, best buddy, Cake, his devoted, visionary Aunt Easter, and others in the Sizemore clan, Clay's Quilt becomes a whole a treasure to be handed down from one reader to another.


Linda Stankard writes from Cookeville, Tennessee.

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Clay’s Quilt

Clay’s Quilt

By Silas House
ISBN 9781565123076

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