Publishing Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith
My favorite novels tend to be those that blend the thrills of commercial/genre fiction with the artistry and hard-earned craft of a literary work. To my delight, just such a manuscript found its way to my desk back at the slushy end of our miserable pandemic winter. By the time I'd completed the first few sentences, I'd decided that Smith's manuscript deserved my close attention. By the end of the first scene, I suspected this thriller would hold me throughout. And after I'd finished Twentymile, I realized that I hadn't read a novel -- any novel -- this good in a long time.
I'm famously harsh when it comes to assessing novels. I have a hard time finishing many works of fiction, even those bedecked with gobs of accolades. I believe fiction must justify its own existence, no simple matter. It must be ambitious. It must be honest. And for me, it must also make the reality of the room I am sitting in vanish until only the reality of the author's creation remains. This is a very high form of magic, and it is achieved by choosing carefully each and every word so that the dream will be unbroken. Among the many things C. Matthew Smith gets right in Twentymile is this bewitching, this entrancing, this immersion into a gripping and propulsive story set in the Great Smoky Mountains. As tough as this past winter was, Smith's story felt like a very generous gift.
Of course, there are many other virtues to Smith's novel. Twentymile contends with significant issues of public land management, of heritage and identity, of family loyalty and community service. The novel features a female protagonist of Cherokee heritage, a creative stretch that Smith -- a white-collar white guy -- pulls off with great respect and realism. And then there's the climax of his story, which culminates with a blend of power and grace. For a debut novel, this is masterful work. Smith is a rising star, and we at Latah Books are awfully proud to be sharing his talent with the world.