Dark Family History and Psychological Drama: Review of Melinda Clayton’s ‘Entangled Thorns’

et-cover-200-x-300 (1)Entangled Thorns is the third book in Melinda Clayton’s Cedar Hollow series. You can read an interview with the author here. I selected this title from Cheap Kindle Books.


The story centers on the impoverished Pritchett family of the small town Cedar Hollow, located in the mountains of West Virginia. Each chapter of the book is devoted to the perspective of a single character. The two main characters are sisters Beth Pritchett Sloan and Naomi Pritchett Wells. Other members of the family contribute their point of view including Beth’s daughter, Marissa Elizabeth Sloan, Beth and Naomi’s mother, Geraldine Porter Pritchett, and Beth’s husband, Dr. Mark Sloan. The character of Kay Langley, whose family owns the local diner in Cedar Hollow, also sheds light on the family and its history.

The notorious Pritchett family dealt in the business of making moonshine in homemade stills and bootlegging.

Mention the name Pritchett to nearly anyone in those parts and they’ll inevitably have a story to share, not just about whiskey running and illegal activities, but about drunken brawls and countless other outlandish behaviors.

mashbarrelsThe youngest members of the Pritchett family participated in the business in a variety of ways, ranging from guarding the ‘mash barrels’ (pictured right) from hordes of rats during the fermentation period to a task known as ‘taster duty’. Starting as early as age one, the children were forced to ingest the moonshine:

The more extreme our reaction to the squeezing forced into our mouths, the better the quality of the ’shine was believed to be.

After the unexpected death of their thirteen year old brother Luke, fifteen year old Naomi and seventeen year old Beth got on a train to Memphis never to return. Twenty-seven years later, Naomi is a successful novelist and Beth lives with her husband Mark and their two children in an upscale suburb outside of Memphis, Tennessee, using alcohol in an attempt to suppress unpleasant childhood memories and the death of her brother.

“I suppose I had thought— or hoped, at least— if I could just put enough distance between me and Cedar Hollow, I could erase the memory of Luke’s death. I couldn’t, of course. If anything, the older I got the more vivid the memories became.”

A letter from Kay Langley prompts Beth and Naomi’s return to Cedar Hollow together with Beth’s seventeen year old daughter Marissa to finally reconcile with the past.


hazy_morning_light_by_mashuto-d7brgj6Entangled Thorns is magnificently written. Clayton brings to life what it was like to grow up in poverty in mid-century Appalachian life. The striking descriptions of Beth, Naomi and Luke growing up amongst the rich flora and fauna in rugged mountain country gave realism to the story and remain unforgettable images to my mind.

I couldn’t deny the beauty of the sunrise, the colors stretched across the sky above the dark backdrop of mountains. A wispy haze hung across the valley, and dew still sparkled on the grass. Somewhere in the distance a mourning dove called, the solitary notes hanging in the still air. In another few minutes the haze would be gone, replaced by the sultry humidity of a West Virginia summer, but for a moment I was transported back in time, running barefoot through the wet grass on a cool summer morning, with Naomi on one side and Luke flying ahead, fishing poles bouncing on his shoulder.

Clayton also skillfully navigates the story through diverse viewpoints to compose a rewarding story. The viewpoints are depicted by an inner dialogue with six different characters. This allows the reader to experience first-hand what each individual character is feeling, gain an understanding of how the events turned out the way they did, and how each character perceives the events and each other. That Beth takes her daughter, Marissa, along as well back to her hometown means that we are given the outlook of three generations.

The stark reality of alcohol abuse is handled by Clayton with insight and sensitivity. The narrative reveals the effects of abuse on all members of a family as well as the abusive patterns that surround them at present. The individual development of the complex cast of characters illuminates how abuse tends to continue through generations. Yet this inspiring work is optimistic in that it explores how one may try to bring closure to the cycle of abuse and move forward in life.


The book is the third installment in the Cedar Hollow Series but the story is self-contained and stands on its own. Since I enjoyed this book so much, I intend to learn more about Cedar Hollow and all of Melinda Clayton’s works are now on my must-read list. I rate this book 5/5.

A final note: at the end of the book Clayton has included some reflective questions for book clubs to consider after reading her book. These questions are a useful tool for a first-rate book that is particularly suitable for discussion in a book club. The various points of view presented in the story mean that a great number of people will likely identify with one or more of the characters.

Entangled Thorns (Cedar Hollow Series Book 3) by Melinda Clayton (2013).
219 Pages. Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC
Purchase it at Cheap Kindle Books here
Purchase it on Amazon here
Add it to Goodreads here

–Nighttime Narratives