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Honey from the Lion

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In this lyrical and suspenseful debut novel, a turn-of-the-century logging company decimates ten thousand acres of virgin forest in the West Virginia Alleghenies—and transforms a brotherhood of timber wolves into revolutionaries. After fleeing his childhood farm in the wake of scandal, Cur Greathouse arrives at the Cheat River Paper & Pulp Company’s Blackpine camp, where an In this lyrical and suspenseful debut novel, a turn-of-the-century logging company decimates ten thousand acres of virgin forest in the West Virginia Alleghenies—and transforms a brotherhood of timber wolves into revolutionaries. After fleeing his childhood farm in the wake of scandal, Cur Greathouse arrives at the Cheat River Paper & Pulp Company’s Blackpine camp, where an unlikely family of sawyers offers him new hope. But the work there is exacting and dangerous—with men’s worth measured in ledger columns. Whispers of a union strike pass from bunk to bunk. Against the rasp of the misery whip and the crash of felled hemlock and red spruce, Cur encounters a cast of characters who will challenge his loyalties: a minister grasping after his dwindling congregation, a Syrian peddler who longs to put down his pack and open a store, a slighted Slovenian wife turned activist, and a trio of reckless land barons. Cur must accept or betray the call to lead a rebellion—and finally reconcile a forbidden love. Manuel Muñoz says of reading Matthew Neill Null’s image-rich prose, “The real pleasure—and certainly not the only one—is in the sentences, as complex, deliberately assured, and lethal as Flannery O’Connor’s.” A startling elegy that establishes its author as a tremendous new literary voice, Honey from the Lion evokes the ecological devastation and human tragedy behind the Gilded Age, and sings both the land and ordinary lives in all their extraordinary resilience.


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In this lyrical and suspenseful debut novel, a turn-of-the-century logging company decimates ten thousand acres of virgin forest in the West Virginia Alleghenies—and transforms a brotherhood of timber wolves into revolutionaries. After fleeing his childhood farm in the wake of scandal, Cur Greathouse arrives at the Cheat River Paper & Pulp Company’s Blackpine camp, where an In this lyrical and suspenseful debut novel, a turn-of-the-century logging company decimates ten thousand acres of virgin forest in the West Virginia Alleghenies—and transforms a brotherhood of timber wolves into revolutionaries. After fleeing his childhood farm in the wake of scandal, Cur Greathouse arrives at the Cheat River Paper & Pulp Company’s Blackpine camp, where an unlikely family of sawyers offers him new hope. But the work there is exacting and dangerous—with men’s worth measured in ledger columns. Whispers of a union strike pass from bunk to bunk. Against the rasp of the misery whip and the crash of felled hemlock and red spruce, Cur encounters a cast of characters who will challenge his loyalties: a minister grasping after his dwindling congregation, a Syrian peddler who longs to put down his pack and open a store, a slighted Slovenian wife turned activist, and a trio of reckless land barons. Cur must accept or betray the call to lead a rebellion—and finally reconcile a forbidden love. Manuel Muñoz says of reading Matthew Neill Null’s image-rich prose, “The real pleasure—and certainly not the only one—is in the sentences, as complex, deliberately assured, and lethal as Flannery O’Connor’s.” A startling elegy that establishes its author as a tremendous new literary voice, Honey from the Lion evokes the ecological devastation and human tragedy behind the Gilded Age, and sings both the land and ordinary lives in all their extraordinary resilience.

30 review for Honey from the Lion

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Can I give my own book 5 stars? Ah hell, I'll go ahead and do it... Can I give my own book 5 stars? Ah hell, I'll go ahead and do it...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brett Beach

    Review forthcoming in The Master's Review--but, sweet lord, this book is astonishing. Dark, violent, lyrical, heartbreaking, and somehow redemptive. One of the most enjoyable reading experiences I've had recently. Matthew Neill Null is not just someone to watch, he's fully formed. Get this book. Edited to add: (https://mastersreview.com/book-review...) Matthew Neill Null’s debut novel, Honey from the Lion, is an extraordinary and powerful examination of the steady decimation of ten thousand acres Review forthcoming in The Master's Review--but, sweet lord, this book is astonishing. Dark, violent, lyrical, heartbreaking, and somehow redemptive. One of the most enjoyable reading experiences I've had recently. Matthew Neill Null is not just someone to watch, he's fully formed. Get this book. Edited to add: (https://mastersreview.com/book-review...) Matthew Neill Null’s debut novel, Honey from the Lion, is an extraordinary and powerful examination of the steady decimation of ten thousand acres of the West Virginia Allegheny forest. The novel moves with the assured pace of a thriller, while sentence by sentence Null plays with the language of place, of longing, and of violence. Within the book are echoes of Edward P. Jones’ The Known World in its scope and generous spirit in the face of overwhelming adversity. The encompassing omniscient narration and deliberate, masterful plotting brings to mind Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus. Frankly no first novel has the right to be this good—and yet, Null succeeds. He announces himself as a fully formed novelist. Honey from the Lion centers around Helena, the company town for Cheat River Paper & Pulp. In the early years of the 1900s, the forest is ripe for industry. Located at the base of the Alleghenies, Helena has stores, bars, pastors, prostitutes, and—once a month—the company’s workers. These men descend to collect their pay, seeking a reprieve from their dangerous work. “Like sunflowers,” Null writes, “the wolves dished their faces to the sky. Light was a luxury the forest denied them. They clenched their eyes shut and savored the warmth, showing off the white undersides of their chins.” The wolves are the timber wolves: the men who cut down the trees, which the teamsters then drag away. Too, there are “sawyers, filers and bulls, tallymen and grade crews, buckers and trimmermen with pitch on their hands.” By 1904, logging is a robust and healthy industry, and three soldiers from the Civil War’s early years have grown into land barons, amassing wealth from a distance. At a time when California’s coast has been given a death sentence, ice caps are melting, and warnings about the sustainability of man’s consumption are still dismissed by some politicians and citizens, Null’s evocation of the forest’s steady destruction is both a prescient fable of our future and a humbling reminder of man’s consistent and tyrannical history of ruin at any cost. Yet, a newly cut tree’s descent can read like poetry: “With a metallic groan the tree twisted and fell—so fast, so slow, the drizzling molasses, as they all do. It parted the forest like a blade, the world shook and blurred with its percussion. Branches snapping, birds flaring. Like a courthouse coming down.” The work is dangerous. Men’s lives mean nothing in comparison to profit. A drunken man notes that “the cities of Baltimore and Washington reads a hundred acres of poplar every morning over breakfast.” If a man dies, work must—and will—go on. Other men eager for work will come. Unsurprisingly, the workers of Cheat River have begun to compile a list of complaints: “Dying horses. Unmended bones. Rain, drudgery, bleeding hands. They wanted a doctor to visit the camps once a week, not once a month. Twenty-five cents an hour, not two dollars a day. A hot lunch. A ten-hour shift, not one without end. Collective bargaining, glory, power, recognition, revenge, a right to jury trial…” The solution comes in the form of a proposed union strike, as well as acts of violence—suggested by the more radicalized men—meant to shake the land barons’ control. Null introduces a large cast of men who are no more than figures in a ledger to the company’s owners, but to the reader are fully realized men with ambitions, dreams, fears and longings: father-and-son Vance and Amos Church; Italian Leo Caspani; drunkard Blue Ruin; skilled timber wolf Neversummer; and Cur Greathouse, who has fled his family’s home following the death of his twin brother and an unwise but passionate dalliance with his stepmother. Null carefully fleshes out the wider world of the town, too: the union strikers use the Gulley, the black section of Helena, as a secret meeting place; Grayab is a Syrian peddler who befriends the struggling pastor Seldomridge; Zala, hiding under the name Sally Cove, has been abandoned by her foreign husband and is now disastrously involved with Cur. Null controls the abundance of characters and plot through an omniscient narration that dips in and out of the story, weaving together—often before the reader understands the connections—several threads of plot. This voice is capable of knowing more than the characters and the reader. Time is malleable: prolepsis hints at the future and flashbacks inform the present. Distant but not distancing, evaluative but not cold, the novel’s perspective also allows for moments of true tragedy, as when a character who might have been the novel’s hero is killed off in a single paragraph, or a betrayal that will cost several lives is revealed in a single line. Uniting the novel is Null’s writing: lyrical, dense, descriptive and poetic, but never forgetful that plot and character are essential. By following Cur, a West Virginian, Null speaks to the endless pull of time, and the unbreakable draw of returning to your native land. As alive and present as his characters seem, Null writes, “This country always belonged to the dead. The living rented upon their memories. The living looked embarrassed to be here.” Yet these men and women—the living—cannot help but long for home. Here is Null’s greatest gift: in the face of misery, of a cruel system built upon the broken backs of the men it is profiting from, Honey from the Lion is essentially a love song to the Alleghenies. Both the novel and the author love the flora and fauna, the poetry of the voices, the faces and bodies of the people, but especially the mountains themselves, looming overhead. Long ago stripped bare of their trees, they cast a long shadow, still.

  3. 4 out of 5

    John Tipper

    Matthew Neill Null's first novel has writing that reaches out and grabs you. The style is full of pyrotechnics: metaphors, similes, playful new word usages. All done in an assured manner. And this is good because the subject of the writing is not pretty or nice. It centers on the logging of northern Appalachia in the early 20th Century, the pillaging and plundering of the landscape that left it practically uninhabitable for both humans and animals. Cur is the main character but has a psychologica Matthew Neill Null's first novel has writing that reaches out and grabs you. The style is full of pyrotechnics: metaphors, similes, playful new word usages. All done in an assured manner. And this is good because the subject of the writing is not pretty or nice. It centers on the logging of northern Appalachia in the early 20th Century, the pillaging and plundering of the landscape that left it practically uninhabitable for both humans and animals. Cur is the main character but has a psychologically dependent personality, and he often follows the lead of a physically imposing logger, Neversummer. A group of these woefully underpaid and overworked timberwolves (loggers) form an insurgent force, bent on violently overthrowing the establishment. Most of the novel's conflict has to do with company loyalists and the fifth column connivers. Cur reminds me of certain characters out of Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. Hell sweeps along some people.

  4. 5 out of 5

    E Stanton

    What an excellent read! Full disclosure for anyone of my friends here who don't know, Matt's parents are very good friends of mine. When all the kids were smaller, we'd do beach trips together, family cookouts, etc. Matt then went to W&L at the same time as my niece. we've stayed in touch through the years until FB and sites like goodreads.com made staying in touch very easy. Matt has written a few books of short stories that I haven't read, but plan to in the near future. This story is an excel What an excellent read! Full disclosure for anyone of my friends here who don't know, Matt's parents are very good friends of mine. When all the kids were smaller, we'd do beach trips together, family cookouts, etc. Matt then went to W&L at the same time as my niece. we've stayed in touch through the years until FB and sites like goodreads.com made staying in touch very easy. Matt has written a few books of short stories that I haven't read, but plan to in the near future. This story is an excellent tale of life in the remote mountains of West Virginia at the turn of the 20th century. A great mix of the beauty of the landscape (before the timbering) with the darkness of the souls who float in and out. Although the country is beautiful, anyone who has lived in the mountains of West Virginia how quickly the land and weather can change and kill you. (Crossing the fog filled New River Gorge every morning I am reminded of Kurtz's observation of the Thames: "This too has been one of the dark places of the earth") Matt really catches this dichotomy perfectly. The story turns quickly into a saga of trust and betrayal that kept my on the edge of my seat. (no spoilers!) 5 stars and a recommendation to everybody!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Spencer Keasey

    Beautiful writing.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tuck

    hot tipped novel by scibona, joy williams, jaimy gordon, anthony marra...historical novel set in west virginia where gilded robber barons log off the forests and own the towns and govt, and mine the coal...our protag is poor, fairly dumb, hillbilly who'd been fing his stepmom, but got thrown off the farm, so he goes to work cutting trees... there's a crazy preacher, a couple of thinking-men blue collar union dudes, some se euro immigrant anarchos, a czech fatal down on her luck but could think s hot tipped novel by scibona, joy williams, jaimy gordon, anthony marra...historical novel set in west virginia where gilded robber barons log off the forests and own the towns and govt, and mine the coal...our protag is poor, fairly dumb, hillbilly who'd been fing his stepmom, but got thrown off the farm, so he goes to work cutting trees... there's a crazy preacher, a couple of thinking-men blue collar union dudes, some se euro immigrant anarchos, a czech fatal down on her luck but could think straight, and lots and lots of hillbillys, sheriffing, cutting trees, gettting drunk, burning stuff, "voting repub" in 2015 talk. very beautiful writing, but rather short story. i liked 'marrowbone better for its working rights and progressivism story, but The Marrowbone Marble Company i can't wait for his next one. cool press here lookout books http://www.lookout.org/books.html

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Fascinating historical novel focused on a 19th century West Virginia logging community. This is a novel jam-packed with ideas and themes, but for me the sheer destructive force of the timber industry was the most resonant, especially as our culture still struggles to respect humanity's only home (to put it mildly). The entire book is lyrical, even poetic, but the action really picks up in the second half. Fascinating historical novel focused on a 19th century West Virginia logging community. This is a novel jam-packed with ideas and themes, but for me the sheer destructive force of the timber industry was the most resonant, especially as our culture still struggles to respect humanity's only home (to put it mildly). The entire book is lyrical, even poetic, but the action really picks up in the second half.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ed Maher

    For a first novel, this was very good. Exceptional writing, but the story tended to drift. What is it with non linear story lines? If the author had focused more on the main character and told his biography from beginning to end, I think this could have been extraordinary. I look forward to Mr. Null's next book. For a first novel, this was very good. Exceptional writing, but the story tended to drift. What is it with non linear story lines? If the author had focused more on the main character and told his biography from beginning to end, I think this could have been extraordinary. I look forward to Mr. Null's next book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Ingram

    It took a while to get in to this book. It's very detail oriented, so I found myself rereading pages often. I did have a little trouble following some of the characters. The style of writing reminded me a little of Russell Banks (most specifically, Cloudsplitter). It took a while to get in to this book. It's very detail oriented, so I found myself rereading pages often. I did have a little trouble following some of the characters. The style of writing reminded me a little of Russell Banks (most specifically, Cloudsplitter).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Billie Hinton

    Review forthcoming on LitChat.com.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I am very conflicted over this book and I’m still trying to process it. I read Mr. Null’s short story collection Allegheny Front 2-3 years ago and thought it was hands down the best short story collection I had ever read. I’ve been meaning to re-read that to analyze what it was I loved so much about it. This novel was released a few years earlier, and while amazing in many ways, I struggled with it. I agree with the review that is quoted on the back cover, it reads like a first hand account from I am very conflicted over this book and I’m still trying to process it. I read Mr. Null’s short story collection Allegheny Front 2-3 years ago and thought it was hands down the best short story collection I had ever read. I’ve been meaning to re-read that to analyze what it was I loved so much about it. This novel was released a few years earlier, and while amazing in many ways, I struggled with it. I agree with the review that is quoted on the back cover, it reads like a first hand account from 100 years ago, it is remarkable how extensively detailed Mr. Null’s knowledge of that place and time is. The prose is wonderful but I feel the story was hard to follow through the dense minutiae, and the protagonist was just not a very compelling character. Again, I might come around a little more on this, but as of right now, I feel like I struggled through this book and didn’t quite get the emotional payoff I was hoping for. This does not dull my enthusiasm for Mr. Null’s future work at all. He is a truly gifted writer. He reminds me of Mark Helprin in that he seems to have an endless ability to creatively describe the world he is trying to create, to an extent and in a manner that is just different than most everyone else. I’m convinced those guys both see the world through a much different lens then the rest of us, and I love that about them. I look forward to his next project.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Une lecture qui m'a demandé énormément de concentration, plus qu'habituellement, mais qui m'a permis de me plonger dans l'enfer des travailleurs américains dans une scierie perdue dans la montagne, au début des années 1900. Rêves et désillusions, camaraderie et chacun pour soi, l'histoire aborde des tas de sentiments différents, et l'auteur réussit ce voyage à merveille ! Une lecture qui m'a demandé énormément de concentration, plus qu'habituellement, mais qui m'a permis de me plonger dans l'enfer des travailleurs américains dans une scierie perdue dans la montagne, au début des années 1900. Rêves et désillusions, camaraderie et chacun pour soi, l'histoire aborde des tas de sentiments différents, et l'auteur réussit ce voyage à merveille !

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nate

    Picked up for no good reason from the new book shelf at the library. More than a little Faulkner. Great read about a moment in time.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Wert

    This book keeps you on your toes. Exciting, suspenseful, with a good dash of historical fiction thrown in, and yes, even a bit of sex.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Null has a wonderful grasp of language and phrasing... i found the tale a bit meandering at times, but the overall sense was of a slow dying of a way of life, so maybe that was purposeful... well-developed characters of varying levels of humanity and evil and sadness...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Martina

    I liked but wasn't blown away by this book. The description of early 20th century industry in West Virginia was an interesting, if surface level, history lesson. Imagining these forests as they once were, trees hundreds of years old and 8+ feet in diameter, is dreamy and sad. I liked the beginning, became unimpressed by the middle, disliked the end before coming to appreciate its deep bleakness. In my opinion this book addresses very worthwhile history and has some profound moments, though the n I liked but wasn't blown away by this book. The description of early 20th century industry in West Virginia was an interesting, if surface level, history lesson. Imagining these forests as they once were, trees hundreds of years old and 8+ feet in diameter, is dreamy and sad. I liked the beginning, became unimpressed by the middle, disliked the end before coming to appreciate its deep bleakness. In my opinion this book addresses very worthwhile history and has some profound moments, though the narrative at times seems clunky and unpolished. "Viewed from that peak, the land was a mutilated sea. Naked Mount Spruce in the distance, biting clouds, highest in the state. They saw no deer, no livestock, not even a carrion crow. The horrible tranquility of it all. No birds sang. Nothing but the sound of their own voices, their own thoughts. They had emptied their world like a jug." page 239

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dale

    highly praised debut novel from this author who on 08.07.2016 via the NY Times "Southern Fiction" Shortlist had another book recommended; not at any Madison Co. Libraries;...debut novel fr. new Southern writer that the NY Times loved: not so me. Very dense writing; also very hard scrabble subject matter. I am thinking if this guy keeps writing in time his density will soften and hopefully the subject matter will become lighter as well…this one was not my cup of tea. The only reason I finished it highly praised debut novel from this author who on 08.07.2016 via the NY Times "Southern Fiction" Shortlist had another book recommended; not at any Madison Co. Libraries;...debut novel fr. new Southern writer that the NY Times loved: not so me. Very dense writing; also very hard scrabble subject matter. I am thinking if this guy keeps writing in time his density will soften and hopefully the subject matter will become lighter as well…this one was not my cup of tea. The only reason I finished it was it took forever to get via the Inter-Library Loan by way of Madison County Public Library, Berea, 249 pgs.; 2 out of 5 stars;

  18. 4 out of 5

    Roxann

    I received the book for free through Goodreads Giveaways. I don't know about this book. I read some of the reviews by other readers and it seems to be a well liked book. I usually like to read historical fiction, but I did not 'get into' this book. I didn't even finish it this time. I will try to read it again later. I received the book for free through Goodreads Giveaways. I don't know about this book. I read some of the reviews by other readers and it seems to be a well liked book. I usually like to read historical fiction, but I did not 'get into' this book. I didn't even finish it this time. I will try to read it again later.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Fielding Williams

    Very lyrical and descriptively delicious. In some parts I got a little bogged down with too much effort put into the wording but loved the overall story and density of the language. Read Serena by Ron Rash! It's similar in time and setting. Very lyrical and descriptively delicious. In some parts I got a little bogged down with too much effort put into the wording but loved the overall story and density of the language. Read Serena by Ron Rash! It's similar in time and setting.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dennis

    excellent discussion of the western nc tree mining operation from the worker's perspective excellent discussion of the western nc tree mining operation from the worker's perspective

  21. 4 out of 5

    Steve Mitchell

  22. 5 out of 5

    Terrylene

  23. 4 out of 5

    Burke Burke

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Willard

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cassadi

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mary

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Flint

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kyleen

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michael Taeckens

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

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