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Monday, January 24, 2011

Book Review of David Selby's new novel.

(This news courtesy of WVW 2010 Contest Coordinator Steve Goff. The article he speaks of was written by friend of WVW Norman Julian of the Dominion Post.-- ed)

Greetings, here's a nice book review by Norm Julian of David Selby's novel. Some of you will know or recognize Selby from his days as an actor with a featured role on the fan favorite TV show Dark Shadows. (AND AS A FORMER WVW CONFERENCE WORKSHOP PRESENTER AND OUR GUEST AT FESTIVALL 2010 -- ED.) I never saw the show but know it was a cult favorite as a late in the afternoon, Vampire soap really.

Since the 1980's Selby has been drawing on his WV roots to generate much of his art, and from the sounds of NJ's review, he his novel should be a good read.



536 words

My hunch is that David Selby approved when earlier this month the Environmental Protection Agency revoked a crucial water permit at a vast Arch Coal Logan County mine.

Selby is a WVU grad and Hollywood actor and writer who delivered the keynote commencement address at WVU graduation in 2004.

His new novel "The Blue Door" pivots around the polarizing issue of surface mining in West Virginia. Some novels inform, some entertain and some persuade. This one does all three.

It was said of Lincoln that when he argued cases he could explain the other guy's position better than his opponent, thus making his own case more convincing.

And that is how I read Selby as he backgrounds not only why the mountains shouldn't be leveled but why they have been.

This quote is the most persuasive of the "pro" arguments:

"You can't say no to coal, Governor. You can't go nuclear, even though it may be prettier. How much uranium have we got? How long is oil going to stay a nickel-ninety-eight? The alternative stuff is Disneyland. Coal is real."

But the day really belongs to Sally, the activists who decides to cling to her mountainside home despite the mountains being blow apart above it.

She is said to be "a woman who was threatening the livelihood and freedom, the very manhood of the white male mountaineer."

This is a Roman-a-clef novel, a fancy term for a work that presents real characters with fictional names.

Thus we encounter the coal baron, name of Messing, who is Sally's main antagonist. We also are introduced to the famous in state and national business and politics.

You meet Wally "Barren," Arch Moore, and Judge Charles Haden, a Morgantown native who comes off well because of his courageous stand against stream pollution. Sally stands against wealthy patriarchs and only the judge comes to her rescue because he puts fairness and justice above politics.

In real life, though, George Bush's EPA overturned Haden's ruling. Selby shows how.

Sally is not against underground mining, the kind her father and boyfriend do. But she rails against mountaintop removal. She calls West Virginia a "sacrifice zone."

In one scene, as her house is rocked by explosions, she pronounces her credo thusly: "The only promise that matters to me is the one I made to my dad - that my granddaughter would know her legacy. I will tell her that I tried my very best. Do the best I can do for these mountains."

That is the theme of the novel, too.

It is the mature, measured judgment of a distinguished WVU graduate. Does David Selby pull it off?

The proof may be in who reads it. If he succeeds only in singing to the choir made up of those (like me) who oppose mountaintop removal, then maybe the novel will fail.

But if, as Lincoln did, he could number among his readers those who have power to influence the process - and Jay Rockefeller and acting governor Earl Ray Tomblin quickly come to mind - then his work may persuade broadly.

When Selby addressed WVU graduates in 2004, he said, "Education is light in the dark." And so this book is, too.

(Norman Julian is a columnist at large for The Dominion Post. You can reach him at