Over the Plain Houses

Over the Plain Houses

by: Julia Franks
Release date: Sep 1st, 2017

This spellbinding debut by Julia Franks is the story of an Appalachian woman intrigued by the possibility of change and escape—stalked by a Bible-haunted man who fears his government and stakes his integrity upon an older way of life. Read More

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Winner of the Southern Book Prize
Winner of the Thomas Wolfe Award
Winner of the 2016 Georgia Author of the Year in Literary Fiction
Winner of the 2017 IPPY Gold in Literary Fiction
Winner of the 2018 Townsend Prize for Best Georgia Fiction
An NPR 2016 Best Book | Chicago Review of Books Best Fiction of the Year | One of Bustle’s 15 Great Appalachian Novels | Atlanta Journal Constitution’s 10 Best Southern Books of 2016 | Indie Next Pick, May 2016 | Women’s National Book Association 2016 selection for Great Group Reads 

It’s 1939, and the federal government has sent USDA agent Virginia Furman into the North Carolina mountains to instruct families on modernizing their homes and farms. There she meets farm wife Irenie Lambey, who is immediately drawn to the lady agent’s self-possession. Already, cracks are emerging in Irenie’s fragile marriage to Brodis, an ex-logger turned fundamentalist preacher: She has taken to night ramblings through the woods to escape her husband’s bed, storing strange keepsakes in a mountain cavern. To Brodis, these are all the signs that Irenie—tiptoeing through the dark in her billowing white nightshirt—is practicing black magic.

When Irenie slips back into bed with a kind of supernatural stealth, Brodis senses that a certain evil has entered his life, linked to the lady agent, or perhaps to other, more sinister forces.

Working in the stylistic terrain of Amy Greene and Bonnie Jo Campbell, this mesmerizing debut by Julia Franks is the story of a woman intrigued by the possibility of change, escape, and reproductive choice—stalked by a Bible-haunted man who fears his government and stakes his integrity upon an older way of life. As Brodis chases his demons, he brings about a final act of violence that shakes the entire valley. In this spellbinding Southern story, Franks bares the myths and mysteries that modernity can’t quite dispel.

Praise for Over the Plain Houses

“With careful attention given to the Appalachian landscape and an intimate feel for the tensions of society played out within a single family, the novel is a striking portrait of a place in transition, told by a gifted storyteller.” Electric Literature
“A spellbinding story of witchcraft and disobedience.” —Carmen Maria Machado for National Public Radio
"Over the Plain Houses had me enthralled from beginning to end. This beautifully written, carefully constructed, and richly detailed novel swept me away to another time and place—rural Appalachia during the Great Depression. Ms. Franks conveys a vibrant, here-and-now authenticity to this setting, but, much more than that, she plunged me into an absorbing human drama of marital discontent, misunderstanding, violence, and desperation. What a spellbinding, convincing, and completely satisfying novel this is!" —Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried
“As Southern Appalachian women, we need to tell our own stories, and Julia Franks does this in prose as starkly beautiful as the Depression-era mountain landscape her characters inhabit.” —Amy Greene, author of Long Man and Bloodroot
"Julia Franks writes wonderfully and knowledgeably about nature, with a fine eye for the textures of the physical world. Her ear for the diction and rhythm and creativity of Southern mountain speech delights on every page." —Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain and Nightwoods
"The best historical fiction conjures the past while speaking to the present. Over the Plain Houses is an absorbing, twisty, suspenseful story of a couple’s rupturing marriage in a time and place wracked by change. It is also a timely cautionary tale about the dangers of a mind hardened by fear and zealotry. Precisely observed, exquisitely written, Julia Franks’ debut novel is a work of stunning emotional depth and clarity that is destined to become a Southern classic." —Kim Church, author of Byrd, winner of the Crook's Corner Book Prize
"With cool but compassionate vision, Julia Franks allows spouses Irenie and Brodis to emerge as fully formed human beings: desperate to be freed, to be saved, to be something else entirely. Over the Plain Houses masterfully depicts the geographical and social landscapes of the 1930s American South, and in Julia Franks' hands this story about a marriage and a place expands beyond all confines and into something as gripping and as haunting as a fever dream." —Michelle Wildgen, author of You're Not You and Bread and Butter
"Every now and then you find a book that is so enthralling and alive with characters that when it begins to build suspense you find yourself breathless as you read. There is a touch of Faulkner here, but Hawthorne as well. Brodis Lambey is a memorable creation, a man out of darkness and evil, representing his own brand of religious fervor. And his long suffering wife, Irenie, his son Matthew, have their own demons to confront. When Brodis becomes convinced his wife may be a witch, the story unfolds and moves like an express train. This one is a winner." —Robert Bausch, author of Far as the Eye Can See, The Gypsy Man, Almighty Me
“Franks' debut is a thoughtful exploration of one woman's quest to live life on her own terms.” Kirkus Reviews
“Man oh man. There’s writing and then there’s writing. Pick up Julia Franks’ debut novel Over the Plain Houses, turn to any page, and you just have to give into whimpers as you read.” Charlotte Observer
“This book seems like it may have taken 240 years to write. At its best, which is all the time, it summons the smoke-swirling wilderness…. The startling images she retrieves conjure geologic time…. Franks’ mastery of technical details is daunting.” —Atlanta Journal Constitution
“This novel cannot be reduced to its treatment of the Depression, or of women's issues, any more than Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain could be called simply a Civil War novel. Over the Plain Houses captures elemental emotions.” —Knoxville News Sentinel
“A stunning debut novel set profoundly in depression-era Western North Carolina that focuses on the familial and communal conflict that arises out of a man’s utter commitment to fundamentalist religion...An utterly compelling story that is deeply rooted in place....An affecting work of art." —The Thomas Wolfe Award Committee
“Tense and atmospheric, this novel is set in Depression-era North Carolina but confronts a number of issues that are relevant today.….The book brilliantly takes readers back to a bygone era while subtly showing that it is an era whose darkness could soon fall again.” Indie Next
“This small-press gem…is filled with the most beautiful prose I read this year, and is surely one of the most confident, mature debut novels of the century so far...A gorgeous, creepy Southern Gothic tale set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina at the tail end of the Great Depression. The sense of place is visceral, and the characterization is masterful.” —Chicago Review of Books
“Not since Cold Mountain, Cataloochee or Serena have I read such convincing and transporting Appalachian prose, where so much attention is paid to surroundings, landscapes...A sublime achievement.” —Smoky Mountain News
“Breathtaking…. A combustible tale about the conflicts that arise when the past meets the future. It is about the collisions that occur when outsiders—even the well-meaning ones—impose changes upon insiders.” —Appalachian Heritage
“This is a wonderful book….Over the Plain Houses is worthy of both our wonder and our admiration.” —The Georgia Author of the Year Committee
“Electrifying…. Franks’s chilling prose evokes rural Southerners’ isolation and distrust of outsiders, and the dangers inherent in a woman’s desire to flee her marriage and control her own body.” —Anjali Enjeti in Atlanta Magazine
“Mesmerizing.” —Southern Literary Review

Cover Image: Jody Edwards

Julia Franks

Julia Franks

Julia Franks has roots in the Appalachian Mountains and has spent years kayaking the rivers and creeks of Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia. She lives in Atlanta, where she teaches literature and runs Loose Canon, a web service that fosters free-choice reading in the classroom.

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