By Ed Davis
For the Sunday Gazette-Mail
"Blood Clay." By Valerie Nieman. Press 53. 196 pages. $17.95. Paperback.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Valerie Nieman's third novel, "Blood Clay," is the deeply moving, elegantly constructed story of what happens when extraordinary violence happens to ordinary people; however, the story is about much more than violence.
Set in the small-town world of Saul County, N.C., it encompasses a great deal of history, private and public, as we come to know many of the denizens of Taberville and the surrounding region.
Tracey Gaines and Dave Fordham are single teachers at the A.O. Miller Alternative School. Living across the road is Orenna Sipes, a black single mother raising her two daughters. Artis Pennell, whose farm abuts Tracey's, is, like her, a divorced newcomer; but, unlike her, he has custody of a teenage son. Through the fates of these interwoven characters, Nieman works out the timeless theme who am I and where do I belong?
Events are set in motion early on when Tracey witnesses a tragedy involving a child. Her involvement -- what she did and didn't do -- not only disturbs her conscience but interferes with her ability to assimilate into a community worlds away from her urban Ohio and Pennsylvania. While the tragedy sets Tracey and her two neighbors on a collision course, Neiman wisely takes her time getting there. This is not a breathless blockbuster but a fascinating portrait of real people in anguished yet believable circumstances to which every reader can relate.