Idabel Allen’s fresh voice in in literary fiction is bringing a new, vivid novel to Amazon.com and other online booksellers on May 2. “Rooted” will be available in trade paperback and in both Kindle and Nook formats.
The former Bartlett resident has two other works under her belt and another currently being considered by a literary press, and she said she’s been writing for about 20 years. With a smile in her voice, she added, “I’ve just been slow on publishing.”
“Rooted” tells the story of three main characters, including a drunk, desperate punk musician who literally crash lands in the fictional rural town of Moonsock, Tenn., in the late 1970s while searching for his inheritance. The blue-haired and foul-mouthed young man, known to his fans as The Roaming Mortician because of a fascinating and lonely childhood, has a long-forgotten good heart and discovers more than he bargained for in Moonsock. He gets tangled in the threads of family ties he didn’t even know he had.
He immediately clashes with the second major character, Grover McQuiston, an older man of the cane-waving variety, who rules his town and family with an iron fist. McQuiston has worked for a long and bitter lifetime to bury a shameful past and restore his disgraced family’s name. He smacks and punches the confused musician so many times throughout the story that readers may start to wince even while they’re laughing at the absurd situations.
“I liked his character a lot because he’s not a really nice guy. Not a nice guy at all,” Allen said. “But he’s a real person.”
The third major character in “Rooted” is Sarah Jane, Grover’s eerily anti-social granddaughter with a veiled and traumatic past. She is a quiet bookworm who listens to Victrola music while she pounds out her own hotly emotional journal entries on a manual typewriter. She works alone as always, in a remote shack built on stilts over a muddy river. On her rare excursions into town, she scandalizes the town folks with her introversion and odd ways. Allen said Sarah Jane is independent, won’t be controlled and definitely doesn’t exude Southern hospitality and charm.
“She just wants to be left alone, but the world just won’t let you be alone,” Allen said.
You might call this book “grit lit” because it is a gritty, realistic story told in evocative imagery about down-to-earth people. This isn’t about the genteel, quaint South. It’s a complex, raw story about family secrets, a country funeral that gives an emotional gut punch, and the meandering path of fate that re-unites a troubled family. And if you’re talking grit lit, “Rooted” also has a loose Southern connection with all things “grits,” such as the hearty country cooking that appears throughout the story. You can almost taste the warm biscuits with gravy in the kitchen scenes.
“Rooted” has a place on the shelves of people who love Southern Gothic fiction. Allen said it has a bit of an edge that verges beyond this genre at times. But it also has key genre elements such as quirky characters, grotesque situations, a warped rural community, and an examination of regional values. It also has compelling themes of alienation, violence, humor, sorrow and strong family ties. Authors who share the Southern Gothic label, willingly or not, have included Harper Lee and three of Allen’s favorites, Flannery O’connor, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner.
The title inspiration for “Rooted” came from Allen’s son, when he realized the strength of family ties and how one pivotal person’s influence can spill out over the generations. He told his grandmother admiringly, “Nanny, it all comes from you. You’re the root of everything!” That clincher observation pulled the whole book into sharp focus for her, Allen said. “Grover McQuiston is the root of it all.”
Ultimately, she sees her novel as fun and engaging. “There’s some dark stuff in it, but I’ve been told it has a pretty good pace to it, and there are some unexpected things in it that make it an interesting read.”
About the author
Allen attended the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop and is also the author of “Headshots,” a short story collection, and her young-adult novel about a dramatic teen who befriends the itchy class outcast: “Cursed! My Devastatingly Brilliant Campaign To Save the Chigg.”
She also has just wrapped up her next book, a work with a serious and completely different tone. This book of historical fiction is set on the real-world location of Davis Bend Island and tells the fictionalized story of the island’s inhabitants, who are former slaves. It’s now being considered by Bellevue Literary Press for publication.
Mid-South supporters of hometown talent should also know that Allen has strong Bartlett roots. She lived in the city as a child, started school at Bartlett Elementary and later attended Altruria Elementary. Today, she still visits with extended family members who remain in Bartlett, the Memphis area and the Mid-South. Allen now lives in Westmoreland, northeast of Nashville.
Contact Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow on Twitter as @idafiction and get updates via Facebook. Check out idabelallen.net for a peek at her current work-in-progress, other books and writings, and her blog, “A Lowbrow Literary Life.”