- The Silent Appalachian: Wordless Mountaineers in Fiction, Film and Television by Vicki Sigmon Collins
In this catalog of silent characters in Appalachian texts, Vicki Sigmon Collins presents an impressive array of figures that span time and genre. One wishes for an introduction that situates these observations more concretely in an assertion, but only because the observations themselves are so striking and seem to lead toward a conclusion. The lack of a conclusive argument is balanced by the sheer volume of works that Collins presents. The Silent Appalachian: Wordless Mountaineers in Fiction, Film and Television strives for and achieves breadth, creating a thorough catalog of characters who "are deaf, mute, pretend to be mute, have lost their ability to speak (either temporarily or permanently), choose not to speak, are apprehensive about their ability to use comprehensible words, are silent for fear of reprisal or as the result of trauma, keep deep secrets hidden, mutter in monosyllabic responses, stutter, grunt and point, communicate with animal-like sounds, are tongue-tied, speak in tongues [End Page 223] or develop speech patterns in an enigmatic language such as idioglossia or cryptophasia" (p. 2). What is not as clear is the reason that so many Appalachian figures are silent.
Collins organizes the characters and their silences in three parts: "Physical Affliction," "Emotional Factors," and "Social Hindrances." Within each of these broad categories are subcategories (within "Physical Affliction" is "Silenced by Stroke" and within "Social Hindrances" is "The Silence of Ignorance and Poverty," for example). Each entry is built around a single silent character, includes a brief plot summary, and is supported at times with scholarship on the text at hand. This collection of brief entries, ranging from one to six pages, amasses a full and complex image of silent Appalachian figures in fiction, film, and television.
In her strongest moments, Collins offers close readings and engaging analyses of the texts. Playful language marries summary and critique, creating a vivid, if brief, reading of the characters collected here. In essays that focus on Ginny Powell in Robert Morgan's The Truest Pleasure (1995) and Christopher "Stump" Hall in Wiley Cash's A Land More Kind Than Home (2012), among others, it feels clear that Collins has much more to say about the texts. She limits her analysis to silent characters, which grounds the book, but it sometimes feels abrupt or incomplete.
To collect and curate essays on such a broad group of figures requires a certain level of superficiality. What Collins manages to achieve in this work reflects her significant labor and productive judgment. What we are left with is a well-organized and impressive catalog of characters who, for various reasons, are mostly silent. Collins has introduced a fruitful topic that invites future scholars to stake claims as they enter the conversation. Her work will allow others to take the next steps in making connections between these characters and answering the questions she raises in The Silent Appalachian.