Ann Hite Leads the Pack With SLEEPING ABOVE CHAOS

Book Review - Jackie K Cooper

Ann Hite is a novelist with whom many of you might not be familiar. You need to get to know her immediately. Her latest novel, SLEEPING ABOVE CHAOS, is a story John Steinbeck would have been proud to claim. In this book we find a view of the triumphs and tragedies of life he and Hite share, but her's is told through a southern prism and with a southern voice.

Shortly into the story you discover the rough and tumble world in which Ella Ruth Allen lives. Her mother is dead and her father has deserted her. She is living with her paternal grandparents who are limited in their ability to show affection, and who have a very low opinion of her mother. Ella Ruth learns early on that if she is ever to know the truth about her mother, and her mother's death, she is going to have to do her own investigating.

Part of Ella Ruth's problems spring up because of the area of the country in which she lives, and also the fact it is the 1940's and women have not gained much of a foothold in society. Swannanoa Gap is a small town in North Carolina and it is located at the base of Black Mountain. Everything seems to revolve around Black Mountain and its lore and traditions. It all affects Ella Ruth when she lives with her grandparents and it still affects her when her father returns and moves her in with him and his new wife.

Ella Ruth's story plays out against a panorama of world and local events. Her life is bruised by the pain of World War II and scarred by the civil rights tide of the early 50's. It is during these years she goes through changes as she marries and becomes a mother, and also seeks a career as an artist. She has her eyes on the stars but her feet are trapped in the dirt of the ground where she lives.

Hite tells her story with a raw ferocity that enhances each and every page. Then she adds in both stubborn compassion and endearing love. All of the elements of a sweeping novel are here as you are totally absorbed by the major plot lines as well as the minor ones. Hite doesn't just tell Ella Ruth's story. She also tells the stories of Buster, Lee and Lacy. These are people who interact with her, influence her, and love her.

Discovering a writer as talented as Hite is a cause for celebration. She is that good. She has the ability to tell a sprawling story but keep it simple; to create heroic characters but let the readers see their flaws. Somehow she has created a story that some might call a potential classic yet it is the most readable of books.

There are writers of today who could become the legends of tomorrow. I believe Ann Hite is leading that pack.

SLEEPING ABOVE CHAOS is published by Mercer University pRess. It contains 356 pages and sells for $17.00.

Jackie K Cooper