“Here is a romance as sweet as Kentucky jam cake.” I just finished reading Back Home in Landing Run, which is set in rural Kentucky in the early 1900s, and I have to agree with this sentiment. These words of praise by Sena Jeter Naslund nicely sum up this novel by Louisville author Mary Popham and there is indeed something sweet about this short book, but exactly what it is – that’s hard to say. It might be the rustic, no-frills setting or the plain innocence of so many of the characters, including Emmalene, the protagonist. It could also be the unassuming, backwoods-inflected language of the people who populate the landscape or else the quilting bees, country churches, horse-drawn buggies and many other images of Americana conjured up by the author. It could be all of those things, but I suspect much of it has to do with the nostalgia the author feels for a bygone era and Nelson Country, the place where she grew up.
Despite the postcard images, the Nelson County of Back Home in Landing Run is a place rife with tension. Moonshiners have to outsmart the revenuers, family feuds simmer, and there is no small amount of mistrust between Catholics and Protestants. In the midst of all this arrives Emmalene, a beautiful young woman who has entered into a marriage of convenience with a much older and wealthier man. Although he is mistrustful of his neighbors, the gruff and secretive man entrusts Emmalene with the care of his special-needs grandson and the affection she develops for the little boy becomes mirrored by the affection that the local community grows to have for her. When some of this affection starts coming from two local men who see Emmalene as a potential love interest, the story takes an interesting turn. Whether or not fate will allow the heroine to be with her true love is just one method the author uses to ratchet up the tension and weave an entertaining tale. “The story is full of surprises,” wrote a reviewer for the Courier-Journal of Popham’s debut novel. “Even the most unromantic readers will be eager for another visit to Landing Run.”
Mary Popham holds an MFA in writing from Spalding University and began writing in 1987. Since then she has produced a wide variety of plays, stories, essays, articles, and reviews.
Title: Back Home in Landing Run
Author: Mary Popham
Publisher: Motes Books, 2013