Clay's Quilt

Clay's Quilt


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“A YOUNG WRITER OF IMMENSE GIFTS . . . One of the best books I have ever read about contemporary life in the mountains of southern Appalachia. . . . I could see and feel Free Creek, and the mountain above it.”

After his mother is killed, four-year-old Clay Sizemore finds himself alone in a small Appalachian mining town. At first, unsure of Free Creek, he slowly learns to lean on its residents as family. There’s Aunt Easter, who is always filled with a sense of foreboding, bound to her faith above all; quiltmaking Uncle Paul; untamable Evangeline; and Alma, the fiddler whose song wends it way into Clay’s heart. Together, they help Clay fashion a quilt of a life from what treasured pieces surround him. . . .

“A long love poem to the hills of Kentucky. It flows with Appalachian music, religion, and that certain knowledge that your people will always hold you close. . . . Like the finely stitched quilts that Clay’s Uncle Paul labors over, the author sews a flawless seam of folks who love their home and each other.”
–Southern Living

“Unpretentious and clear-eyed . . . A tale whose joys are as legitimate as its sorrows.”
The Roanoke Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402570360
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 03/30/2004
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.50(h) x 5.00(d)

About the Author

Silas House is the author of five novels. His book for middle-grade readers, Same Sun Here, was a finalist for the E. B. White Read-Aloud award. A frequent contributor to the New York Times and a former commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered, House is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and is the winner of the Nautilus Award, the Appalachian Writers Association's Book of the Year, and other honors.

Read an Excerpt

They were in a car going over Buffalo Mountain, but the man driving was not Clay's father. The man was hunched over the steering wheel, peering out the frosted window with hard, gray eyes. The muscle in his jaw never relaxed, and he seemed to have an extra, square-shaped bone on the side of his face.

"No way we'll make it without getting killed," the man said. His lips were thin and white.

"We ain't got no choice but to try now," Clay's mother, Anneth, said. "We can't pull over and just set on the side of the road until it thaws."

Clay listened to the tires crunching through the snow and ice as they moved slowly on the winding road. It sounded as if they were driving on a highway made of broken glass. On one side of the road there rose a wall of cliffs, and on the other side was a wooden guardrail. It looked like the world dropped off after that.

They met a sharp curve and the steering wheel spun around in the man's hands. His elbows went high into the air as he tried to straighten the car. The two women in the back cried out "Oh Lord!" in unison as one was thrown atop the other to one side of the car. Anneth pressed her slender fingers deep into Clay's arms, and he wanted to scream, but then the car was righted on course. The man looked at Anneth as if it were her fault.

The women in the back had been carrying on all the way up the mountain, and now they laughed wildly at themselves for being scared. They acted like going over the crooked, ice-covered highway was the best time they had had in ages, and the man kept telling them to shut up. It seemed they lit one cigarette after another, so many that Claycouldn't tell if the mist swirling around in the cab of the car was from their smoking or their breathing.

The heater in the little car didn't work, and when one of the women hollered to the man to give it another try, the vents rattled and coughed, pushing out a chilling breeze. Clay could see his own breath clenching out silver in front of him until it made a white fist on the windshield. The man wiped the glass off every few minutes, and when he did, he let out a line of cusswords, all close and connected like a string of paper dolls.

Anneth exhaled loudly and said, "I'd appreciate it if you didn't cuss and go on like that in front of this child."

"Well, God almighty," the driver said. "I ain't never been in such a mess before in my life."

Clay knew that his mother was getting mad because a curl of her hair had suddenly fallen down between her eyes. She pushed it away roughly, but it fell back again.

"They ain't no use taking the Lord's name in vain. I never could stand to hear that word," she said. She patted Clay's hands and focused on the icy highway. "Sides, you ought to be praying instead of handling bad language."

"Yeah, you're a real saint, ain't you, Anneth Sizemore?" the man said, and a laugh seemed to catch in the back of his throat. He pulled his shoulders up in a way that signaled he was ready to stop talking. Clay watched him hold tightly to the steering wheel and look out at the road without blinking. He knew this man somehow, but couldn't figure how exactly, and he didn't feel right with him. He wished that his father had been driving them. He reconsidered and simply wished he could put a face to the word daddy. He was only four, but he had already noticed that most of his cousins had fathers, while his was never even spoken of. He wondered if his father would smell so strongly of aftershave, like this man, and have a box-bone in his cheek that tightened every few minutes. He started to ask his mother about this but didn't. He had so many questions. Today alone, he couldn't understand what all had gone on.

Clay looked out at the snow and wondered if the world had stopped. Maybe it had frozen, grown silver like the creek water around the edges of rocks. They had not met one car all the way over the mountain, and the few houses they passed looked empty. No tracks on the porches, no movement at the windows. Thin little breaths of black smoke slithered out of chimneys, as if the people had left the fires behind.

The windows frosted over again, and Anneth took the heel of her gloved hand and wiped off the passenger window so they could look out. The pines lining the road were bent low and pitiful, full of clotted ice and winking snow. Some of the trees had broken in two. Their limbs stuck out of the packed snow like jagged bones with damp, yellow ends bright against the whiteness. There was not so much sunshine as daylight, but the snow and ice twinkled anyway. The cliffs had frozen into huge boulders of ice where water had trickled down to make icicles.

"Look," Anneth said, "them icicles look like the faces of people we know."

She whispered into Clay's ear and pointed out daggers of ice. The one with the big belly looked like Gabe. One column of ice looked like a woman with wigged-up hair, just like his aunt Easter. There was even one that favored the president, who was on television all of the time. Clay put his hands inside hers. The blue leather gloves she had on were cold to his bare hands. He didn't move, though, and hoped the warmth of her fingers would seep down into his own.

"I need to get this baby some mitts," Anneth said, to no one in particular. The women were singing, and the driver was ignoring every one of them. "His little hands is plumb frostbit."

She undid the knot at her neck and slid the scarf around her collar with one quick jerk. The scarf was white, with fringes on each end. She shook out her hair and picked at it with one hand. The car was filled with the smell of strawberries. She always washed her hair in strawberry shampoo, except on Fridays, when she washed it with beer. She took his hands and lay the scarf out across her lap, then wound the scarf round and round his hands, like a bandage.

"I'm awful ashamed to have on gloves and my baby not," she said as she worked with the scarf. "There," she said. There was a fat white ball in Clay's lap where his arms should have met.

One of the women in the back put her chin on the top of the front seat. "I hain't never seen a vehicle that didn't have a heater or a radio. This beats it all to hell."

The man shot her a hateful look in the rearview mirror.

She fell back against her seat and began to sing "Me and Bobby McGee." The other woman joined in and they swayed back and forth with their arms wrapped around each other's necks. Their backs smoothed across the leather seat in rhythm with the windshield wipers. They snapped their fingers and cackled out between verses.

"Help us sing, Anneth!" one of them cried out. "I know you like Janis Joplin."

Anneth ignored them, but she hummed the song quietly to Clay, patting his arm to keep in tune.

The man said that he would never make it off the downhill side of the mountain without wrecking and killing them. There was more arguing over the fact that they couldn't pull over. They would surely freeze to death sitting on the side of the road. They were on top of the mountain now, far past the row of houses. There was nothing here but black trees and gray cliffs and mountains that stretched out below them. Everybody started talking at once, and it reminded Clay of the way the church house sounded just before the meeting started.

Clay looked over his mother's shoulder at the women. One of the women was looking at herself in a silver compact and patting the curls that fell down on either side of her face. She snapped the compact shut with a loud click and looked up at him happily.

"Don't worry, Clay," she said. "We'll make it off this mountain." He could see lipstick smudged across her straight white teeth.

The other woman stared blankly into space, and it took her a long moment to realize that Clay was studying her. She was beautiful, much younger than his mother, but as Clay looked at her, she aged before his eyes. Her face grew solid and tough, her skin like a persimmon. Her eyes looked made of water, her nose lengthened and thinned, and her mouth pinched together tightly. He caught a glimpse of what would never become of her, because she was killed that day, alongside his mother and the man driving the car.

The man's voice was suddenly harsh. "Well, I was good enough to take you over there, now dammit. I need to pull off and calm down some," he said loudly. "My nerves is shot all to hell."

"I'll never ask you to do nothing else for me, then," she said with disgust. "I ain't worried about myself--I have to get this baby home."

"Hellfire, I'd rather be home, too, but this road is a sight," he said. "You ought not got that child out in this. I'm pulling over, and that's all there is to it."

"Go on, then," Anneth shouted in a deep voice. She turned toward the window and didn't speak to him again.

"Let's just set here a few minutes and figure something out," the driver said.

The shoulder widened out and they could see the mountains spread out below. The white guardrail was wound about by dead vines that showed in brown places through the thick snow. The mountains looked like smudges of paint, rolling back to the horizon until they faded into one another in a misted-over heap.

Anneth wiped the icy window off once more and said, "Look how peaceful. Look at them mountains, how purple and still."

Clay knew that the mountains looked purple under that big, moving sky, but they didn't look still at all to him. They seemed to be breathing --rising so slowly, so carefully, that no one noticed but him. He watched them, concentrating the way he did when he was convinced a shadow had moved across his bedroom wall. It seemed to Clay that they rose and fell with a single pulse, as if the whole mountain chain was connected.

Everyone had grown silent looking out at the hills, and later this struck Clay as strange. They were all accustomed to seeing hills laid out before them, but there was something about this day, something about how silently the mountains lay beneath the snow.

It was so quiet that Clay was certain that the end of the world had come. Everybody on earth had been sucked up into the sky in the twinkling of an eye. He was used to hearing people talk about the End and the Twinkling of an Eye; his Aunt Easter constantly spoke of such things. She looked forward to the day when Jesus would part the clouds and come after His children. "Rapture," she called it, and the word was always whispered. Easter said if you weren't saved, you'd be left behind.

He pressed against his mother and felt the warmth of her body spread out across his back. She ran her fingers through his hair and began to hum softly again. He could feel the purr of her lungs against his face. It was the same song the women had been singing. Clay knew it by heart. He'd watched his mother iron or wash dishes while she listened to that song. Sometimes she would snatch him up and dance around the room with him while the song was on the record player. She had sung every word then, singing especially loud when it got to the part about the Kentucky coal mines. The vibration in her chest was as comforting as rain on a tin roof, and he fought his sleep so that he could feel it. She must have thought he was asleep, too, because finally she took her hand from his head and stopped humming.

She pressed her face to the window, leaning her forehead against the cold glass. "I ain't never seen it so quiet on this mountain," she said.

That was the last thing Clay was aware of, but afterward, he sometimes dreamed of blood on the snow, blood so thick that it ran slow like syrup and lay in stripes across the whiteness, as if someone had dashed out a bucket of paint.

Copyright 2002 by Silas House

Reading Group Guide

1. When Clay told his Aunt Easter he was moving out of her house, she cried until her eyes were red and swollen. She tells Clay that a family should live right together. Does Clay's tight-knit, extended family enable or hinder his search for his mother, Anneth, and his quest for meaning in his life? Discuss how your own experiences within an extended family relate to Clay's.

2. How does the Pentecostal religion affect Clay Sizemore's life? What influences have the Free Creek Pentecostal Church had on Clay? Give examples of how Clay both abides by and rebels against the church's teachings. How does the Pentecostal faith compare to your own religious experiences?

3. Discuss the author's use of dialect in this story. What words or phrases spoken by the characters were unfamiliar to you? How do the characters' speaking styles affect your interpretation of the story? What do you learn about the characters by the way they talk?

4. Discuss how music is used throughout the novel. Are you able to identify with the musicians and/or songs that are referenced? What do the various musical choices say about the characters in the novel?

5. What does Alma's fiddle and her style of music signify for you? Does the fiddle serve as a larger metaphor in the story?

6. What role does nature and the Appalachian landscape play in Clay's Quilt?

7. Clay's Uncle Paul, the quilter in this story, feels geography and history beneath his fingertips while searching for fabric to use in a quilt. What does this mean? How does the quilt work as a symbol in this story? What are your own experiences with family quilts?

8. What is your reaction to Easter'ssecond sight, or her ability to foresee the future? Is it a blessing or a curse? Have you ever known anyone who had visions such as Easter? Do Easter's visions allow the reader to have a second sight as well?

9. Explain the relationship between Clay and Cake. Are they just drinking buddies?

10. What purpose does Anneth's letter to Clay serve in the novel?

11. What does the title of the second part of the novel, Flying Bird, mean to you?

12. If home is a dominant theme in this story, what happens to the plot, the characters, and the tone of the story when Alma and Clay leave the mountains of eastern Kentucky and travel to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina?

13. Compare and contrast the rituals of Appalachian weddings and funerals in Clay's Quilt to your own experiences.

14. Does it seem incongruent or troubling to you that many of the characters, so deeply rooted in family tradition and religion, also participate in a lifestyle of drinking, drug use, and domestic violence? Why or why not? What does the author achieve by juxtaposing sacred and secular behaviors throughout the story?

15. With which character(s) do you most closely identify? Why?

16. Discuss the perceptions your reading group has about Appalachian people in general. Does this novel alter your no-tions about contemporary life in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky? In what ways?

17. Has your group read other novels set in Appalachia or about Appalachian characters? If so, compare and contrast those novels to Clay's Quilt.

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Clay's Quilt 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I heard about this author at the recommendation of Leif Enger, who wrote PEACE LIKE A RIVER. I am so glad that I did, because I believe he is one of the best Southern authors I have ever read. He made the place so real that I feel as if I have not only been to Free Creek, Kentucky, but I have actually lived there, fallen asleep listening to its creek, smelled its coal smoke. What a beautiful novel. I can't wait for his new one, which comes out in the fall, I believe. Do youself a favor and read CLAY'S QUILT.
CasualFriday on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a nice little novel about a coal miner and his gradual attainment of self-knowledge and love. Clay Sizemore¿s mother was killed when he was four, and as an adult, Clay starts to piece together his mother¿s story, as he falls in love with a fiddle player with a troubled past of her own.The story itself is very slight, but the prose is graceful and the setting lovely. It¿s a refreshingly unsentimental portrait of Appalachia, with an interesting mixture of ecstatic Pentecostalism, alcohol, violence and sex. I was prepared to be let down with a dramatic arc that is fairly flat, but the author closes the deal with a final paragraph that makes you go ahhh.
punxsygal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Orphaned at age 4, Clay Sizemore is raised in a small Appalachian mining town surrounded by family-some related and some not. Over the years he is still seeking the missing pieces of his memory of his mother. Life in modern day Kentucky, filled with laughter, sadness, anger, and love. This book paints a rich picture of time and place.
litelady-ajh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good contemporary novel set in Kentucky; very likeable characters.
allene68 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Silas house is one of my favorite authors. Every time I go in a book store I go to the H's to see if he has a new book out. I loved this series of books about Clay and his family. After finishing this book and its sister books, I missed the characters as if they were my own family. They seem to walk off the pages of the book into your life while you read about them. I found myself laughing and crying with them and getting mad at their ememies. Well worth the read!
LynneVS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is by a Southern storyteller who brings his characters to life. Having gone to school and traveled in the Appalachians, I loved reading a story that captures the voices and the region so well.
tandyk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book got me hooked on Silas House. Growing up in Kentucky, it was so easy for me to relate to the story and the characters in this book. Even the mention of UK basketball, I had to chuckle with that one.
jfslone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Overall, a wonderful modern appreciation of the Appalachian region and its ever-evolving culture. House writes convincingly and the characters seem to act out of their own free will, a gift many writers struggle to achieve in their work. There are only very minor issues with the book, stemming from some problems with predictability and cliche. This is especially evident in the ending, most specifically in the discovery of a quilt which has been made from Clay's mother, Anneth's, clothes. While this is a heartfelt moment and the reader can feel Clay's overwhelming emotion, the idea itself seems a bit contrived. But this is a minor detail when compared to the overall picture of what Silas House has done with the characters and setting in this novel!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book. A must read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love Silas House!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I read every day for hours all kinds of books. 'Clay's Quilt' is one of the best books that I have read in years! It is pure poetry that takes the reader to another place. The book just sucks you in to the mountains of Kentucky and its people.You wish that you were a part of their lives. Silas House can write!! I look forward to reading more from him in the future. What a gift he has!
Guest More than 1 year ago
My favorite book of the year. So moving, so beautifully written. I want everyone to read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first heard of Mr. House while reading a publication from Eastern Kentucky University. Because we attended the same university and I also write stories that take place in my native Kentucky, I was instantly drawn to this book. After finishing the first chapter, I knew that the characters and themes Mr. House so vividly describes not only are universal but they celebrate Kentucky life in such a way that all readers can feel bluegrass between their toes and smell tobacco hanging in the barn. Wow! Thank you Mr. House for bringing these Kentuckians to life. I want to invite Easter and Clay and Alma over for supper. They are that real.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is wonderful. I cannot wait to read his next book. House's writing is lyrical.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Vividly poetic in its description of Appalachian natural resources, heartwarming and honest in its portrayal of people linked by their love for their environs and family, Clay¿s Quilt is in the top three on my ¿re-read often¿ list. In this debut novel, Silas House deftly stitches a search for understanding and love with picturesque Appalachia. Clay Sizemore is a character any reader will quickly befriend, not only because of the tragedy of losing his mother, but because Clay is a loveable young man. House¿s prose places the reader, like a close friend, beside Clay. Whether Clay is at work in the coal mine, walking the mountainside, or partying at the local honky-tonk, we are there with him, feeling the grit of coal dust in our eyes, smelling the air on Free Mountain, or throwing down a whiskey with a beer chaser on a Saturday night. There is something to be said when a reader can feel for a story¿s rogues. Even the villains and the socially challenged characters in Clay¿s Quilt are people with whom a reader will identify. House takes us into their hearts, to the places that hurt, to those hidden areas where malice and evil ferment, torment and eventually explode with terrible consequences. Life, human and natural, pulsates through the veins of this story. Long after its first reading, ¿Clay¿s Quilt¿ will warm the reader.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Clay Sizemore's poignant search for his place in his community and his search for a family are central in this wonderful debut novel. The element that moves and underscores the action is music. This is a novel with a 'soundtrack.' The soundtrack sings of Clay's search for identity, modern Appalachia, and the children of the Post-Vietnam, War on Poverty Generation. The reader will fall in love with and be haunted by the characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An advance reader's copy of this novel showed up at the magazine where I work as copy editor and the managing editor just picked it up to see what it was about and couldn't put it down until she had finished the book. Upon her recommendation, I read it as well and have to say that it captured me, too. The characters are so real that by novel's end, they seem like people you actually know. That's the thing that really sold me and kept me invested in the novel and what the future held for these characters. Even though I've never even been to Kentucky, now I feel as if I have and I have a better understanding for the people that live there. I am rarely moved to tears by a book, but I have to admit that this one made me mist up a bit. It's strange in that it's a book with a male lead character and very male themes, but it is also very sensitive and wonderfully lyrical. I bet it makes you cry, too. Buy this for sometime when you can just sit back and take your time enjoying it. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I didn't expect much out of this book after purchasing it off of the clearance rack at a local book store for two dollars. I was SO WRONG. I actually felt like I became part of the book. I have read it a few more times just for pure enjoyment. I must-read for everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an easy read, but has a pretty predictable plot. Lots of regional issues are in the book, but they are not explored very deeply. If you don't live in the area or know much about Appalachia, you won't learn much from this book. There's not much character development. Clay's a good old boy, but there's not much reason to really care about him. Most of the characters are boring and predictable. I've read tons of books from southern authors and most do a much better job exploring the cultural issues of the region.