Book Reviews

"This collection has heart, darkened by history, washed in the river and beating still."

-Dana Staves, The Virginian Pilot (Norfolk)

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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)
August 2, 2009 Sunday
Metro Edition
Dark Doings in a VA Town
by Doug Cumming

The Southern storytelling tradition survives like a dominant gene in surprising evolutionary pathways.

Peter Neofotis, a 28-year-old climate-change researcher in New York, was raised in Rockbridge County, a son and grandson of locals. At the consolidated high school, he recited short stories from memory in dramatic interpretation competitions. He left for Columbia University, where he studied science but reveled in the great writers of its core curriculum. He stayed in New York and wrote a book about growing up in rural Virginia.

His creative writing teacher at Columbia, novelist David Plante, read the manuscript and gave him some advice. Keep writing, but don't write about yourself. Make up stories. So Neofotis began writing short stories based on Rockbridge County characters, color, history, legends and news clippings.

He gave these stories wild, gothic turns -- mythic exaggerations, dream-like voices, quick brutal murders, sentient snakes, rabid dogs, psychedelic moonshine, secret gay liaisons.

Readers familiar with the Virginia Horse Center, Goshen Pass, the Natural Bridge, Lexington -- the model for "Concord" -- and with the personalities of Rockbridge County will be tickled by how these are transformed into mythic material. Or maybe you will be irked by the distortions of Neofotis' higher truth, and suspect that a certain bohemian New York gullibility about the South influenced the improbable violence that erupts in these tall tales. Let it be a joke on the Yankees. These stories, in their interweaving of characters and plots, finally sing with a passion for the South and for language. "It is we, the voices of Concord, Virginia -- replenished by a mountain river -- inviting you, friend, to swim in our abiding story."

"Concord, Virginia" bristles with dark doings -- sometimes hilarious, sometimes gruesome. The genre could be called supernatural realism, or neo-Southern gothic. The telling draws on natural science, Greek tragedy (a black man chained by the Klan to the Natural Bridge, attacked by vultures, comforted by a mockingbird, is Prometheus Bound), American Indian folklore, gay history, Thomas Jefferson's life, local politics and other serious readings.

This choiring of voices is a remarkable accomplishment for a young man who, like a songstress in the book who moves to Manhattan, had a song brewing within him about community but didn't know how to release it. He has released it, and it is worth giving yourself over to his imaginative leaps to experience this work as one might a weirdly familiar dream.

CONCORD, VIRGINIA: A Southern Town in Eleven Stories By Peter Neofotis. St. Martin's Press. 192 pages. $19.99

Doug Cumming, Ph.D., is an associate professor of journalism at Washington & Lee University.

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Publisher's Weekly

Concord, Virginia: A Southern Town in Eleven Stories
Peter Neofotis. St. Martin’s, $19.95 (160p) ISBN 9780312537371

This colorful debut collection consists of 11 interlinked stories set in a fictitious Shenandoah Valley town between the early 1950s and late ’70s. The stories exhibit an Appalachian Gothic vibe, and their outlandish, often violent plots draw on the antics of the local eccentrics. The book kicks off with “The Vultures,” in which George MacJenkins returns from vacation to find dozens of vultures have turned his home into their grotesque roost. Local reporter Rachel Stetson features in a couple stories, interviewing a religious snake handler in one, reporting on “the town fool” in the next. In “The Builders,” Tom Dorian, an African-American carpenter married to a woman from a white trash family, is chained to a bridge by bigoted locals and has a very strange encounter with Mary Anne Randolph, “a haunted albino.” Elsewhere, the 1968 trial of two gay men for sodomy in “The Botanist” offers a few humorous moments. Neofotis smartly captures a sometimes creepy, sometimes beautiful corner of Americana.(July)


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Tattered beauty of a town and its people
The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA, Nov 29, 2009 | by DANA STAVES

Special to The Virginian-Pilot

I have heard of people flocking to haunted sites in search of the voices of lost loves, old secrets, broken hearts and ancient grudges.

In place of a haunted house, I offer Peter Neofotis' debut short story collection, "Concord, Virginia: A Southern Town in Eleven Stories."

Neofotis renders the landscape of this Shenandoah town beautifully, creating a portrait of a river valley, nestled between limestone cliffs and Virginia's great pines. The book opens with a prologue that describes the town: "In the places set between folds in the Earth, voices echo against mountains. This is especially true if it is blue-dusk; you are alone; and you laugh, cry, or call out for a friend."

Those voices come from the burden of history (the ghost of Thomas Jefferson makes an appearance) as well as from the townspeople, the characters whose 11 stories span two decades, from the mid-1950s to the mid-'70s.

The author provides a list of characters like the cast of a play, identifying townspeople by profession (fisherman, carpenter) and public opinion (artist, loon). Neofotis lets the town's inhabitants breathe, lets them love and search and sin. Since this is a series of stories connected by place and acquaintance, characters cross chapter lines, appearing in each other's' narratives. The epic nature of the landscape, its trans-chapter spread, gives the book a Faulknerian feel, while the interconnected stories, the community of characters, reminds me of Elizabeth Strout's "Olive Kitteridge."

Neofotis bravely takes on controversial subject matter, such as the Korean War, religious protest and homosexuality. Several stories, however, feature a God-like narrator who seems to be the town's representative, and who sounds like a racist old curmudgeon. It is possible that Neofotis uses this narrator precisely to insert racial tension in the stories, as the narrator characterizes African American characters in a way that borders on racial slurs but reads true to 1960s pre-civil-rights vernacular. Readers may be unsettled by that style of narration - indicative of an Old South voice, one baffled by, but reluctantly tolerant of, racial desegregation - in short, the voice of the past.

While the racial undertones may give readers pause, Neofotis achieves honesty in writing about people, rather than types of people. Controversy gives way to community, and political allegory is sidestepped to become a study of human relationships. In one story, when a church priest condemns a parishioner's son for his homosexual relationship and subsequent suicide, the town abandons the church and rallies behind the boy's mother. In another, the town helps its native daughter to kill her father and make it look like an accident.

This collection has heart, darkened by history, washed in the river and beating still. The grotesque nature of the stories may give readers pause as they wonder at the implausibility of dog attacks, vulture infestations and murders, but beneath the unbelievable events of the stories lies a current of truth and tattered beauty that makes the collection worth reading.

Dana Staves, an MFA student in creative writing at Old Dominion University, specializes in Southern fiction.

"Concord, Virginia: A Southern Town in Eleven Stories"

Peter Neofotis

St. Martin's. 187 pp. $19.99.

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Concord, Virginia - A Southern Town in Eleven Stories
by Christopher Sandlin
EDGE Gulf Coast Regional Editor

Tuesday Jul 7, 2009

Welcome to Concord, Virginia. Tucked into the rolling hills of rural Virginia, "in the places set between folds in the Earth, voices echo against mountains..." Through 11 short stories, author Peter Neofotis carefully weaves together a fictional patchwork of voices, characters and history of a close-knit bygone Southern town torn between tradition and modernity. Drawn from his experiences growing up in the South, Concord, Virginia is a strong debut for Neofotis, who previously received acclaim for sharing these stories in an off-Broadway one-man show (a "panegyric performance" as he describes it). Equally Gothic, haunting, humorous, touching: each short story is captivating enough to stand on its own, but strengthened by interwoven story lines and themes from its companions.

In The Vultures, George MacJenkins is plagued by black vultures who nest in his yard and wreak havoc. Is this the consequence of his beloved wife’s accidental death?

In The Strangers Gypsy woman Ms. Tzigane, the town’s eccentric, finds a kindred spirit in Mr. Silversmith, newly arrived in America after surviving the horrors of Auschwitz. The unlikely couple find freedom in the meditative waters of Fork River.

In The Botanist, Neofotis calls upon his own experience growing up gay in the rural South as he tells the story of Simon Donald, a young man put on trial for his sexuality. In his childhood, Simon learned about plant life and gardening from the town’s prized gardener. Personal growth, he learns, might not be so different from planting vegetables.

Though the 11 stories span from the nineteen century to the late 1970s, each story is subtly linked to the others in an effort to show the timeless - and perhaps supernatural - sense of place in Concord. But time has a habit of catching up.

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Concord, Virginia: A Southern Town in Eleven Stories
Radical Faerie Digest
Issue 138, Summer
by Wilson Hand Kidde

In case you’ve been wondering what happened to the great American tradition of storytelling, look to Peter Neofotis. His extraordinary first collection, Concord, Virginia: A Southern Town in Eleven Stories is the sort of work you’ll feel like reading aloud. Set in a fictitious town, these fresh, original stories, replete with wit and keen observation of human nature, are reminiscent of Eudora Welty and Tennessee Williams. Woven dexterously throughout, Neofotis’s characters come alive with tenderness, humor and passion to try to untangle the mysteries of life and love as well as to grapple with broader issues that continue to confront society like racism, bigotry and the values important to a well-spent life. Neofotis’s exquisitely felt and rendered prose often seems to border on poetry, myth and legend. These delightful stories announce the arrival of a new American writer we can look forward to hearing more from. That’s very good news indeed.
[Concord, Virginia: A Southern Town in Eleven Stories, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2009, 160 pp., $19.95, ISBN: 0312537379]

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Neofotis evokes physical, emotional setting
By GREG LANGLEY AND BOB ANDERSON
Advocate (Baton Rouge, New Orleans) News Features staff
Published: Jul 26, 2009

Fiction
CONCORD, VIRGINIA
By Peter Neofotis
St. Martin’s Press, $19.99

The subtitle of this small collection is “A Southern Town in Eleven Stories.” In these 11 short pieces set in a town in a little valley in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, Neofotis uses recurring characters and locations to gradually bring into focus the likeness of this small place. Concord emerges like an image gradually appearing on a print being developed in a darkroom: the town eccentric here, the prodigal daughter there, the rich jerk here, the star athlete there, and here the sickness of prejudice that simmers just below the surface.

In “The Vultures,” a man with a load of guilt gains a measure of absolution from a flock of very unattractive birds. In “The Snake Man,” a reporter from the local paper interviews a man carrying the psychic wounds of war hidden inside him. During a daylong river dalliance, the man and the reporter gradually share information and reach some understanding of each other. In “The Heiress,” a young woman takes the life of her dictatorial brute of a father. Race and hatred fuel the plot of “The Builders.” Each of the 11 stories is worthy of attention.

 Neofotis shows a keen sensitivity to nature. That is part of what gives his writing such a strong sense of place. At the same time, a powerful strain of mysticism informs Neofotis’ work. His stories are closer in spirit to Ray Bradbury than William Faulkner. He is an adept wordsmith who evokes his setting in both a physical and emotional sense. As he says in his prologue — “In Invitation” — Concord, Va., is one of those rare and special places that birth stories and folklore.

“In the places set between folds in the Earth, voices echo against the mountains. This is especially true if it is blue-dusk; you are alone; and you laugh, cry, or call out for a friend.

“Often no one hears your song, lost forever. Yet in a small town guarded by blue-limestone forested masses, a tale — like a ghost — can verberate off the weathered hills.”

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Folds in the Earth' yield stories
By Mae Woods Bell
Book Reviewer
http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/folds-earth-yield-stories-16857
Friday, February 26, 2010

Peter Neofotis' collection of short stories, "Concord, Virginia" (St. Martin’s Press; 178 pages; $19.99), is by turns whimsical, Gothic, savage, hilarious and poetic — Southern storytelling at its grotesque best. The interwoven tales give the reader insightful character portraits of the denizens of Concord, “a place set between the folds in the Earth,” whose voices echo against the Virginia mountains. Some of those voices raised in a small town guarded by blue-limestone forested hills, have a dreamy, nostalgic tone; others, a more chilling acceptance of a cruel reality...

In between the tale of the vultures and the finale, the book records the personal histories and lives of fisherman Sammy Nolon, artist Jethro O’Pitcairns, carpenter Tom Dorian, animal lover and gypsy Ms. Tzigane; singer Carson Falkland and other unforgettable madcap and lovable characters.