The Green Age of Asher Witherow: Summary and book reviews of The Green Age of Asher Witherow by M. Allen Cunningham, plus links to an excerpt from The Green Age of Asher Witherow and a biography of M. Allen Cunningham.
The Green Age of Asher Witherow
by M. Allen Cunningham
Hardcover: Oct 2004,
Paperback: Oct 2005,
In this mesmerizing first novel by a gifted young writer, the drama of California's rich immigrant history and
the freshness and wonder of childhood combine with darker elements of legend,
magic and mystery. Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Olen Butler calls it
"a startling accomplishment . . . an enchanting novel by a lushly talented
young writer." Tom Franklin, author of Hell at the Breech, says,
"Cunningham is a writer we'll be hearing a lot more from." And Laurel
Johnson of the Midwest Book Review calls it "a book to be savored .
. . It has my highest recommendation."
Born while the Civil War is raging further east, young Asher Witherow seems
marked for an extraordinary future. Anything but typical, he captures the
attention of the eerily watchful apprentice minister and schoolteacher, Josiah
Lyte, and of young Thomas Motion, a strange boy who can see into the deepest
When Thomas mysteriously vanishes, only Asher knows the truth of what has
happened to him, and he must decide whether to keep his knowledge secret or
reveal what he believes to be his own unforgivable mistake. It is an agonizing
moral decision that will forever affect the lives of those closest to him and
that will ultimately have a profound impact on all of Nortonville.
In breathtaking language that contrasts the striking landscape of
California's Diablo Valley with the harsh details of life in an 1870s
coal-mining boom town, M. Allen Cunningham takes us to an extraordinary time and
place. It is a time when the brutal hardships of daily life are leavened by a
sense of miraculous change just around the corner. It is a place of sensual,
almost supernatural beauty, peopled with remarkable characterslike the highly
unconventional Lyte, the "pagan" midwife Sarah Norton and Asher's
beloved friend and closest confidante, the otherworldly Anna Flood.
Impeccably imagined, sensitive and real in its portrayal of a young boy
confronting unanswerable questions with grace and strength, The Green Age of
Asher Witherow is a remarkable book that convincingly shatters the equation
of childhood and innocence.
This is one of those books where the whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts that I fear to give you details from the plot, so all I can do is encourage you to read the excerpt for yourself and decide if this might be a good choice for you. (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
San Jose Mercury News
Dark and foreboding, vivid in character, grounded in the geography of
Northern California, this is an impressive and satisfying debut novel.
The Rocky Mountain News
An amazing first novel.
Laurel Johnson, Midwest Book Review
The early buzz on this debut novel serves up terms like poetic
intensity; strikingly beautiful prose style; unerring
instinct for storytelling; a startling accomplishment; and
lushly talented. I will state emphatically that Mr. Cunningham's
first novel is all that and much more. This is a literary novel in the finest
sense of the word, magnetic and seductive from first word to last. ...This is a
book to be savored, written by a gifted wordsmith. It has my highest
The Salt Lake Tribune
... too compelling to put down.
... a remarkable first novel, a feat reminiscent of William Styron's
Lie Down in Darkness, likewise published in the author's twenty-sixth year. Not
only are the stories of both novels carefully designed, but every sentence in
each one is crafted with care.
Life and death among Welsh immigrant coalminers in 19th-century California. In
an awkward weave, first-novelist Cunningham, a two-time Pushcart nominee for his
short fiction, incorporates an early coming-of-age story with the scapegoating
of an unorthodox seminarian.
Such events (details of which have been removed by BookBrowse to avoid plot
spoilers) are all shoehorned into the final third of a poorly paced novel that
strives mightily to find the right language for the elemental Lawrentian urges
at work, though too often the result is bombast. Disjointed material and
unmatured style make for some rough sledding.
[An] accomplished historical novel. Its unusual structure and richly
descriptive, evocative language display a mastery that is surprising in a
novelistic debut. ...Memorable characters people the Nortonville, California,
community, contributing texture and weight to the story. Most impressively,
Cunningham depicts the rigors of life in a frontier mining town—especially the
physical hardships—and the fragility of humans living in harsh conditions. The
darkness of events and the elegance in structure and language will make this
book satisfying to readers who enjoyed such books as Robert Morgan's Gap Creek
(1999) and Annie Dillard's The Living (1992).
Gritty...Cunningham does a superb job of capturing the grim rhythm of
life in the mines...[his] naturalistic prose and the strong characterization of
young Asher Witherow make this a worthwhile debut from a noteworthy new
With heartfelt characters and stunning descriptions, Cunningham
presents a historical glimpse of squalor in the mines that will haunt readers.
Steve Yarbrough, author
The Green Age of Asher Witherow is one of the finest debut novels I've
ever read. Cunningham writes with poetic intensity, but this is also a book with
enormous narrative drive, memorable characters and relentless drama. And while
the author is an artist rather than a scholar, he serves up a wealth of
fascinating information about the history of the Golden State. For a
twenty-six-year-old novelist to produce this book ought to be impossible, but
you hold the shocking evidence in your hands.
Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain
Rarely does a writer combine a strikingly beautiful prose style with an
unerring instinct for storytelling. But this is indeed M. Allen Cunningham's
startling accomplishment—in his literary debut, no less. The Green Age of
Asher Witherow is an enchanting novel by a lushly talented young writer.
Tom Franklin, author of Hell at the Breach
he writing in The Green Age of Asher Witherow is beautiful, the details enviable, the landscapes amazing, the characters well-drawn. It's like this guy is 200 years old, he gets it so right. Cunningham is a writer we'll be hearing a lot more from.
Between 1830 and 2000 more than 15,000
people were killed in USA mines. I assume similar historic figures could be
found for any coal mining country. For example, in Britain over 90,000
men, women and children lost their lives or were injured in mines between 1850
and 1914 (for a comprehensive resource of UK mining information see
Today, in industrialized countries, coal mining deaths and accidents have been
much reduced because machines have taken over from the men and boys who used to
work the coal face; deaths do still
occur; for example the 2001 explosion in
Alabama that killed 13; and there are health issues related to mining coal.
However, this all pales in comparison to the state of coal mining in China
(which accounts for about 80% of present day mining deaths worldwide), where the official tally of coal mining deaths was 4,153 in the first 9 months of 2004 alone.
A Human History by Barbara Freese (non-fiction).
'Offers an exquisite chronicle of the rise and fall of this bituminous black mineral.... Part history and part environmental argument, Freese's elegant book teaches an important lesson about the interdependence of humans and their natural environment both for good and ill throughout history.'
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