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.