Book review: An astounding first novel |

Book review: An astounding first novel

Ronald Krall/For the Steamboat Pilot & Today

“The Secret Wisdom of the Earth”

By Christopher Scotton

Fourteen-year-old Kevin is riding in the back seat of the car. He and his mother are on their way to spend the summer with Pops, his maternal grandfather, in Medgar, Kentucky. It had been two months since Kevin’s 3-year-old brother, Josh, had been killed.

Kevin’s mother was lost in the moment of horror that had taken her young son from her, her mouth unable to utter anything but silent screams, her eyes unable to shake the sight. Kevin had lost his innocence, suffered the unending recrimination of his dad’s guilt. Visiting Pops was to save them both.

Medgar, Kentucky was coal country. “Coal took them in as teenagers, proud, cocksure, and gave them back fully played out. Withered and silent.”

Coal had been mined until the mines were too fragile. Now, they found it in the beautiful mountaintops, one by one giving up their bounty to the sky. Coal destroyed them and their land, and they were inescapably beholden.

In this summer of his 14th year, Kevin becomes part of the Medgar community and watches as its fragile fabric burns, torn apart by intolerance, pride and money. He plays his part, usually unwittingly.

He becomes Pops’ sidekick, visiting the neighborhood bar and restaurant, helping him vaccinate cows, serving Pops’ nightly visitors Kentucky bourbon mash on the wide front porch that is Pops’ courtyard, picking up the gems Pops leaves behind when he speaks.

Christopher Scotton has written us an astounding first novel. I had trouble reading the last pages through my tears. I fell for the characters and have missed them since they’ve been gone.

This book was 15 years in the writing. Scotten, who always wanted to write, became a software engineer and is currently CEO of an important software company. His writing discipline, up at 5 a.m. to write, returning to rewrite in the late evening, has been rewarded with deserved high acclaim.

This story is rich, deep and wonderful. And besides, it has the best grandpa ever.

Ronald Krall is the co-owner of Off the Beaten Path Bookstore in Steamboat Springs.

This book is available at the Bud Werner Memorial Library and at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore; e-book can be found at

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