Skip to main content

Holding on to Nothing | Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne

Once he got on the highway, Jeptha drove ninety miles an hour toward the soft glow that the huge chemical plant cast over Kingsport.

I know that chemical plant. And the stench that billowed from the tall smokestacks over the Mountain Empire. But for me, the closest source of pollution hummed about 20 miles away at the Bristol Motor Speedway where race cars roared at night, and beer cans littered the highway.

That little bit of distance doesn’t matter when it comes to understanding Lucy and Jeptha, the main characters in Holding on to Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne. In the novel, Shelburne paints an honest and compassionate picture of rural East Tennessee and the weight of a family name.

Shelburne describes Jeptha’s struggle with his legacy below.

It was as if a sinkhole had yawned open beneath their trailer, leaving Jeptha clinging to the sides, his hands stripping bark from the roots he clung to, hoping like hell someone would come along and save his sorry ass, but knowing he was the only one who could do so.

Lucy wrestles with expectations, too. She was the small town’s hope — the one who gets out and makes something of herself. But an impulsive decision shackles her to a life she was desperately trying to flee.

The utter disappointment and devastation when she told them she’d gotten drunk and destroyed their dreams. Even worse, though, was the dissolution of her own dream.  

Both characters grapple with who they are and who they want to be. And sadly, it takes a tragic accident to bring resolve to Jeptha and allow Lucy to revisit her forgotten dreams.

The rural setting adds another layer of despair to Lucy and Jeptha’s story. But strip back the trailers, country dives, and big-box stores, and you have two young people trying to claw their way out of their circumstances to reach something better.

Like East Tennessee, Holding on to Nothing is determined, fierce, and heartbreakingly beautiful.


Popular posts from this blog

Love Lifted Me | #365 Prompts

LOVE LIFTED ME We’d practiced "Love Lifted Me" in GAs until it sounded reasonably good. Well, Anna sounded good. I suppose it was expected since she was the preacher’s daughter and honestly blessed with an angelic voice. She carried any number the trio performed. This time, however, it was a quartet. The choir director had reluctantly invited me to join—I guess she felt it was her moral duty to include me while knowing I couldn't sing.   But I would do for a Sunday night service when the pews were mostly empty. I wasn’t nervous really, even though I’d never sang in front of an audience. And I had forgotten about my bouts of hysteria. Now, these little fits weren’t debilitating. Just brief and inappropriate responses to stressful situations. Like when my dad fell from the ladder and caught his foot in the rung. He was swinging by his sickled ankle, and all I could do was laugh. He grew angry, livid even, screaming at me to help, but I rolled on the ground in hilarious conv

Out of the Blue

Out of the blue and into the black describes the descent of a wildly dysfunctional family in this rambling, nihilistic film by Dennis Hopper. Don, a degenerate convict, pulses with Hopper’s dark charisma, devouring everything in his path. Kathy, his wife, numbs herself from the chaos with drugs and sex, leaving Cebe, their daughter, on her own to deal with the fallout. It doesn’t end well. Cebe, played by Linda Manz, seems to sneer at the brutal cards handed to her, but under that tough facade is a bruised child who craves the comfort and love that’s been absent in her life. Tragically, her signature walk, that strident march, leads her nowhere.


  WE BITE We walk the streets at night. Me and the dangerous dog. Staring them down, daring them down, in the crosshairs of a feral gaze. To whistles, catcalls (and just plain cats), we bare wet teeth.  They think it’s fear.  But really, it’s love.