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How the ordinary becomes the extraordinary in Susan Woodring’s 'Goliath'

Susan Woodring’s new book, “Goliath,” establishes her place as one of North Carolina’s finest young writers. She will talk about “Goliath” on North Carolina Bookwatch this weekend (Friday at 9:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m.)

 Goliath is the name of a small, seemingly ordinary, one-factory North Carolina furniture town, which Woodring begins to describe in her opening chapter: “There, in town, it had been a blessedly ordinary summer of modest, white nuptials and giant insects and bloated afternoons in kiddie pools and back yards, the neighborhoods of Goliath filling with the greasy smells of charred meat and bug repellent. During these months, the heat saturated Goliath and the people sat behind electric fans set on front porches, the ladies’ hair tied back in bandannas. They passed around garden tomatoes, which grew heavy and red on their vines all the way through the end of September.”

This ordinary town is about to go on deathwatch. The owner of the factory has committed suicide. The factory is about to close. And Woodring’s readers are about to learn how a large collection of quirky, Ann Tyler-like characters cope with the town’s crisis and their own personal ones.

Rosamond Rogers, longtime secretary of the dead factory owner, is crushed by his loss. Her emotional attachment to her boss bordered on love, and she had been deeply dependent on him. She drifts into a relationship with a married former lover, an elderly teacher from a nearby town. But he soon returns to his wife. All the men in her life, she thinks, leave her. Her new boss, son of the dead owner, treats her distantly, reminding her every day of how dependent she had been on the interdependent partnership with the father.

Rosamond’s daughter Agnes has returned to Goliath after a failed college experience and a brief marriage. Agnes gets a job in a convenience store and takes up with Ray Winston, the son of Rosamond’s next-door neighbor, Clyde, a widower and the town’s former police chief.

Ray is a county employee, but his calling is to be an evangelist. He goes door to door preaching the gospel. He is serious about his religion, but he loves Agnes almost as much as he loves the Lord. Religion and church play an important part in the town and in the story.

Woodring is unapologetically deeply religious, and Ray is not the only connection to religion in “Goliath.” However, Woodring says that her writing is not meant to be religious in the sense of advocating a particular philosophy or religious belief.

“I can’t imagine,” she says on Bookwatch, “writing a book that takes place in this region without including quite a bit of influence from the local churches, in particular the First Baptist Church of any town. In a small town like this it is a big presence. Most of the people go to the church. It is almost, in a lot of ways, the main social network of the town.

“But also, I was really interested in this book in one of the things that really appeals to me about religious faith, in particular the Christian faith, is that so much of it is about finding something ordinary and searching out or viewing it as something extraordinary.

“Think about Mary who was a 14-year-old girl, completely ordinary, and she becomes mother of God.

“I think, as a writer, that’s so interesting to me, to think about taking this town, and there are thousands of towns like Goliath, and in some ways couldn’t any be more ordinary. But then looking to see what is extraordinary, what is almost magical about this place and about these people, what is that is really beautiful about this community.”

Watch Woodring talk more about her extraordinary book this weekend on North Carolina Bookwatch.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/how-the-ordinary-becomes-the-extraordinary-in-susan-woodrings-goliath/

The pain of losing a town's only factory

“You ain’t never going to understand until you’ve been through it.”

Politicians from the president on down will hear this plaintive statement when they campaign in North Carolina this year. It will happen when they talk about jobs and their plans for economic recovery in towns that have lost the furniture factories or textile mills on which those towns were built.

North Carolinians who have only heard and read about the experiences in mill towns can get the feel of living through the times of factory closure by reading a powerful new novel being released this week.

“Goliath” is the title of the new book by Susan Woodring, who grew up in Greensboro and lives in the North Carolina foothills. Goliath is the name of the fictional mill town near Hickory where the action takes place.

The story opens when Vincent Bailey, 14, discovers a body along the railroad tracks near his family’s home. The body belongs to Percy Harding, head of the Harding Furniture Factory, the town’s sole industry. Vincent’s shattering experience later plays an important part in the story.

In the meantime we meet a host of characters and follow their lives in intimate detail as they adjust to the loss of Percy Harding and the impending closure of the furniture factory.

“Goliath’s” lead character is Percy’s longtime secretary, Rosamond Rogers. Her emotional attachment to her boss bordered on love, and she had been deeply dependent on him. Her own husband, Hatley, had left years ago, leaving Rosamond and her daughter, Agnes, to take care of themselves.

After Percy’s death Rosamond drifts into a relationship with a married former lover, an elderly teacher from a nearby town. But he soon returns to his wife. All the men in her life, she thinks, leave her. Her new boss, Percy’s son, treats her distantly, reminding her every day of how dependent she had been on the interdependent partnership with Percy.

Daughter Agnes has returned to Goliath from a failed college experience and a failed brief marriage. Agnes gets a job in a convenience store and takes up with Ray Winston, the son of Rosamond’s next-door neighbor, Clyde, a widower and the town’s former police chief.

Ray is a county employee, but his calling is to be an evangelist. He goes door to door preaching the gospel. He is serious about his religion, but he loves Agnes almost as much as he loves the Lord. Religion and church play an important part in the town and in the story.

Similarly, Doris Betts, the popular North Carolina writer and teacher who died a few days ago, wove religion into her writing unapologetically. But, as North Carolina and the South become more like the rest of the country, our “Christ-Haunted” landscape has been fading from the fiction of many younger writers. 

Clyde, who does not share his son’s religious zeal, is protective of his neighbor, Rosamond. Initially, she deflects his interest, although it seems clear from the beginning that she needs a man like him rather than those who always leave her.

The novel is full of other quirky, “Anne Tyler-like” characters like the gossipy daughter of the town undertaker, the 96-year old baseball coach, the high school girl who leads a group of suicide note writers, the distraught husband who threatens to jump off the roof if his wife leaves him, and a host of others who gather at the town’s drugstore, diner, bar, and church.

Read this book for the factory-closing experience, for its unforgettable characters, or just to get to know the writing of Susan Woodring, who, with this book, joins the ranks of North Carolina’s best writers.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/the-pain-of-losing-a-towns-only-factory/