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Anne Willkomm Focuses on Kathi Appelt's THE UNDERNEATH

Flash Novel The Underneath

You’ll want to read Kathi Appelt’s new book just because it is so well written. Although it is young adult fiction, Appelt doesn’t “dumb” it down, nor should she.  Instead, she delivers a remarkable adventure for all audiences—one that deserves to be read aloud because of its lyrical cadence. The Underneath is a story that will touch your heart and speak to your soul.  It is a story about life; about the good and the bad, the fair and the unfair, and the beautiful and the ugly.


Told in a counterpoint story line format, Appelt alternates back and forth between the life of an old hunting hound who finds a soft spot for a calico cat and her kittens, and Grandmother Moccasin, a 1,000 year old snake trapped beneath the earth because of her own selfish longing.  This particular structure works well with the two story lines—progressing each at a building pace until the two converge at penultimate moment leaving you to understand that although life is not fair, and life is not always beautiful, but the act of friendship and the choosing of love can and does sustain us.


Set in the East Texas bayou, Appelt pulls you in alongside the mythic trees that have stood tall since before you were born, as they watch and listen to the promises made by one of the kittens, Puck, to his dying mother and the promises made by Grandmother Moccasin to the Alligator King.  They will watch as one tries to make good on their promise and the other purposefully deceives. 

There is not much a tree can do besides stand still under the sun and stars, or bend back and forth in the wind.  But here and there, perhaps once every thousand years, those who know trees agree that a tree can, if it chooses, take matters into its own branches. So when the loblolly pine, this pine, saw its kitten, bruised and scratched from his earlier fall, his small ears cocked to the bay of the old hound, the one that sang the blues, whose silvery notes had filled the nighttime air so many times, it knew longing for what it was, an ache that reached right into the very marrow of its thick trunk.


Also unique to the structure of this novel are the short, individually complete, chapters—rarely more than a thousand words.  Many would qualify as wonderful pieces of flash fiction, able to stand on their own conveying a mini-story with a sense of purpose and revelation.  And even more interesting, and something for flash fiction writers to consider, is how Appelt strings these chapters together to weave a tale of fear, love, sacrifice, hate, and friendship—a tale rivaling old Native American oral tradition—a tale that will enchant, as much as remind you of the lessons of life.


Read this book.  Read it out loud to the young person in your life (recommended for ages 10 and up) or read it to yourself with a cup of tea nestled by a roaring fire on a cool fall afternoon.


Note: An interview with Kathi Appelt will appear tomorrow.  (Woo-hoo!)

About the Author

Flash Fiction Writer Anne WillkommAnne Converse Willkomm began writing shortly after the death of her mother. In 2004, she was named a semi-finalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition Novel-in-Progress category for her fictionalized account of her mother’s life. Later in 2006, the completed manuscript Unfinished Business was also named a semi-finalist. Her work has appeared in Sibyl Magazine and in the anthology Memoirs of Meanness. She has just completed a novel, Promises We Keep, set in Boston and the Appalachian Mountains. She is currently working on a YA adventure novel dealing with grief, The Gift. Also, Anne has written a full-length play chronicling the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s—Declining. She lives in Bryn Mawr with her husband, three children, their dog, and two cats.

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