Novel Looks At Appalachia Through Eyes Of Sisters

May 13, 2020

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Author Bonnie Proudfoot began working on her new novel “Goshen Road” nearly 25 years ago, but she said she had to get older before she had the confidence to finish it. The story follows two sisters growing up in northern West Virginia, beginning as teens in 1967. 

She described the book as women-centered Appalachian fiction, although she was quick to point out that not every chapter was told from a woman’s point of view. 

She explained the book is told in “linked narratives” meaning that each individual chapter could almost stand alone as a short story, but the same characters are in each chapter. 

“Really at the heart of it is the story of two women who come to terms with who they really are. And they can look the world squarely in the eyes on their own terms. But they needed to go through a lot,” Proudfoot said. 

She added that what she wanted to convey to the reader was how much family means, how much the land itself means and how much the two rely on each other, both in good and bad times. 

While she tries to leave it vague, the book is set in a fictional town and county, in north central West Virginia. She said a lot of people ask her if it is set in Fairmont, and she replies, “No, it is smaller.”

Another familiar reference for readers, and people who drive Interstate 79, is in the name of the book  —  Goshen Road. It is an exit between Clarksburg and Morgantown, West Virginia. 

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Proudfoot said when she started writing the book, the title ‘Goshen Road’ was a given, both for its local reference and to the Land of Goshen from the Old Testament. 

She said her characters were “so tied to place and the place itself figures largely in the book.” Adding that it is “kind of a spiritual force.” 

The promotional materials for the book describe it as “elegiac” meaning pertaining to an “elegy.” The book itself covers the lives of the characters from 1967 to 1992. 

“This harks back to the past when there was still a vestige of cultural inheritance. People did canning. They went hunting, they knew how to make some form of living off of the land and not everything was material,” Proudfoot said. “They traded for things. It's an elegy a little bit in that regard. Things have gotten harder, economically speaking, since that novel.”

“Goshen Road” is Proudfoot’s debut novel and it is available through the Ohio University Press. She is a fiction writer, a poet and a glass artist. 

This interview is part of an occasional series of Appalachian Author Interviews with authors from, or writing about, the region.