This book is fast, ferocious, and fun- which is not a surprise, considering it was crafted by J. D. Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers. He wrote a rollicking Kentucky Odyssey-meets-Stand by Me and illustrated it himself to boot. Not only is this a “do you wanna see a dead body” sort of tale, but it’s also a thoughtful look at the overpowering anarchy of kudzu vine (the titular invasive vine that ate the south), and the people of Appalachia herself. All of the characters within The Vine that Ate the South are part of a powerful legacy- whether they are ghosts, vampires, witches, madmen, or everyday folk. Everyone is holding onto something- the crumbling family store, swamp mythology and magic, the devastation of the coal mines, the still lingering specter of the Civil War- and the childhood myths that became fact.
The Vine that Ate the South has given us a new folk hero ( I use this term broadly; he is a baaaaaaad guy and an idiot- a perfect combination) in the form of Carver Canute: a hulk of a hillbilly with bad intentions, bad ideas, and a bad attitude to boot. He is the kind of guy that has stories handed down from teenager to teenager, town drunk to town drunk. Someone saw him smash this, eat that, kill this- and they were lucky to live through the ordeal. He’s a real brute and more of a problem than a guide, but our narrator keeps this strange monster around. He’s a “cocky Elvis-haired hell-raiser who keeps his pompadour aloft with pork drippin’s, sweat, and a wafting circle of lies”. The two take a journey to find an old shack eaten up by kudzu; not a unique situation on it’s own, but the vine also ate the people within the shack, and their bones are allegedly suspended in the vines of the forest, hanging forever in airborne horror. You can imagine that the journey is not nearly as clear as it seems.
There are plenty of horrors and miracles out waiting in the hollers, and our narrator tramps through them all.