Author Sam Knupp takes us back to a simpler time in Smoke on the Mountains, as he transplants the reader to the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah River, West Virginia (of John Denver Fame), in the little town of Timberville, Virginia. The world is in turmoil, it is just after the Charlottesville outrage and a protest march from Charlottesville to Washington passes through Timberville, a town still rooted in and in some ways fighting the Civil War of 1864, with a controversial statue of Southern General, Stonewall Jackson, dominating the main square. Amidst this, a little, local girl Pepper Anne goes missing and the townsfolk and protesters alike, unite to search for her. Attitudes, prejudices, and secrets will be revealed and discovered over the next few weeks leading up to and after Christmas. A huge variety of amazing characters will pass through the prism of suspicion as friendships and relationships are tested. Timberville, Virginia, will never be the same again.
Smoke on the Mountains could probably best be described as an acquired taste. The story, the writing style and the characters definitely grow on you, the more you read. Author Sam Knupp has used an eclectic and bizarre group of characters to try to highlight the cultural divide that is facing American society today. The sheer oddness of the different residents of Timberville highlights the cultural split between rural and urban; between white and non-white; between Evangelicals and non-Christians; and especially between Liberal and Conservative. The characters are grossly overdrawn (on purpose) as typified by the seven-foot-tall, blind preacher Marvel and his equally enormous sidekick, Buddy. I felt the author’s use of humoured cliché to make sense of the ridiculous to be clever and insightful, if a little overdone at times. The fact he was able to make the reader laugh, cry and shout with outrage within a few sentences, was indeed a credit to his ability, however, I did sense the occasional desire on the author’s part to “impress” the reader with his ability as a wordsmith, to the detriment of telling the story. Smoke on the Mountains is definitely different from anything I’ve read lately and it makes you think and question your prejudices, which is probably all one can ask from an author. It was definitely an intriguing read.