A Sister’s Memoir of Appalachia and Loss

Title Details

Pages: 271

Trim size: 5.500in x 8.500in



Pub Date: 09/01/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6463-6

List Price: $26.95


A Sister’s Memoir of Appalachia and Loss

Lyric essays of loss and resistance told in the voice of an Appalachian storyteller

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  • Description
  • Reviews

Prodigals, a memoir inessays, explores the life of Sarah Beth Childers’swildly creative brother, who committed suicide at twenty-two, and her life with him and after him, through the lens of the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son.

This book examines the ways Childers’s brother’s story was both universal and uniquely Appalachian. While the archetype of the prodigal son carries all its assumed baggage, the Appalachian setting of Prodigals brings its own influences.Childers foregrounds the Appalachian landscape in her narrative, depicting its hardwood forests, winding roads, mining-stained creeks and rivers, hill-clinging goats and cows, neighborhoods and trailer parks tucked between mountains. The Childers family’s fervent religious faith and resistance to medical intervention seemsnormal in this world, as doestheir conflicting desires to both escape from Appalachia and to stay forever at home.

Weaving in the stories of other famous prodigals, including Branwell Brontë, the alcoholic brother of the Brontë sisters; Jimmy Swaggart, the fallen televangelist;Robert Crumb, her brother’s beloved author of sexist and racist comic books; and even herself, Childers examines the role of the prodigalwithin the intimate tapestry of family life and beyond—to its larger sociocultural meanings.

An Appalachian childhood steeped in Pentecostalism, the Brontë siblings roaming the English moors, the New Testament parable of the Prodigal Son: Sarah Beth Childers’ memoir triangulates between these and more. From the outset, it raises the question of who the prodigal is—the younger brother Childers loved and lost, too young, to mental illness, or Childers herself, who left West Virginia and her insular family to become a writer and professor. In prose that's full of swerves and surprises, Childers tells and retells her brother’s story. This telling is an act of loving retrieval—even a kind of return. Riveting, luminous, memorable. I've read it three times and can't wait to begin again.

—Jennifer Brice, author of Unlearning to Fly and Another North

Prodigals is about the author’s grief as she explores—via memory, via writing, and via time—her brother Joshua’s mental illness and hisloss. She came from a family that did not ascribe names and diagnoses to mental illness, no lessJoshua’s, and she must not only find a variety of definitions for loss, love, and relationship but also forherself. This is a journey of self, intellect, and history, toward understanding.

—Karen Salyer McElmurray, author of Wanting Radiance

A gorgeous meditation on family, place, and loss. In revisiting the life of her beloved brother, Sarah Beth Childers insists on bearing witness to people and places as they are while contemplating those who stay and those who leave, and the wide pulsing spaces left in their wake. Captivating and clear-sighted. A beautiful book.

—Sonja Livingston, author of Ghostbread

About the Author/Editor

SARAH BETH CHILDERS is assistant professor of English at Oklahoma State University. She is the author of Shake Terribly the Earth, as well as numerous publications in literary journals and anthologies. She lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma.