Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Fiction and Poetry from West Virginia is a collection of short stories and poems from some of West Virginias best writers and poets. Edited by Laura Long and Doug Van Gundy, the anthology is an important contribution to Appalachian literature and provides a beautiful showcase of some of West Virginia's limitless writing talent by featuring short stories and poetry from sixty-three writers and poets from all different walks of life but who share in common a connection to the Mountain State. In this collection, Long and Van Gundy, both [End Page 135] writers themselves, have fashioned "a mosaic crafted from many voices, united by this place, and the quality of the work" that avoids stereotypical representations of the Appalachian experience.
The anthology takes its title from a line in Irene McKinney's poem "Handholds," and as a further tribute to this beloved West Virginia poet, her poem "To My Reader" introduces the collection. Well-known writers and poets including Denise Giardina, Marc Harshman, Ann Pancake, and Jayne Anne Phillips are featured in the collection, and their writing is certainly a treat to any readers who are interested in high quality Appalachian writing. The editors have struck a good balance between short stories and poems, so readers will not find themselves bogged down by one or the other, with the flow of the pieces carrying the reader effortlessly through the anthology.
Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods proves to readers that West Virginian writers are inspired not only by the world outside their windows but also by current global and social issues. Stories and poems ranging from the front porch to as far away as Greece (in the case of Gail Galloway Adams' "Olives") reminds readers that Appalachia is more far reaching than many stereotypes allow. Themes of sexuality, environmental issues (as in Matthew Neill Null's "Natural Resources,"), and class issues are found throughout the poems and short stories and firmly root the anthology in the modern world, showing that West Virginia and Appalachia as a whole are perhaps not as old-fashioned and traditional as many who live outside the region believe. In "A History of Barbed Wire," Jeff Mann's narrator confronts the difficulties of being gay in a small town with startling clarity: "The mountain men have always frightened me, but now I realize that I also desire them, though I know my lust, if expressed, would be met only with [End Page 136] contempt and violence." Null's short story "Natural Resources" examines the ways in which overhunting can have detrimental effects ecologically. In selecting such pieces, the editors achieve a balance in the poems and short stories between an appreciation of West Virginia and a healthy questioning of some of its more conservative traditions.
Perfect for readers who want to take a journey to West Virginia, the anthology provides something relatable for everyone. Readers should expect an emotional journey, one in which they will find themselves heartbroken and on the verge of tears, and alternately laughing at some of the more light-hearted writing.
In the goal of creating a mosaic of writing, Long and Van Gundy succeed because each writer and poet's representation of West Virginia is distinct and reveals a diverse depiction of the state. Readers of the anthology might just look up to see friendly animal eyes glowing at the edge of their own woods. [End Page 137]
Emily Masters is a senior English major at Berea College where she works as a teaching assistant for Silas House and as a student editor for Appalachian Heritage and Apollon e-journal. She is from Monteagle, Tennessee, where she lives on a farm with her family. Her work has recently been published in The Pikeville Review.