Today Lookout Books releases its debut novel, Honey from the Lion by Matthew Neill Null. We could not be more excited to bring this book to an audience of readers. Lyrical, suspenseful, tender, gritty, this book tells the story of a group of timber wolves at the turn of the century in the West Virginia Alleghenies who, complicit in profound environmental devastation, attempt to wrest control of their own fate.
Matt is a writer to pay attention to (his book of short stories is forthcoming from Sarabande too), and here—in his own words—is the story behind this unforgettable book.
Honey from the Lion reclaims a vanished past—a history of daily toil and desire. It is a book of dreams, of the drifter and the clerk, of the washerwoman and the panther. I wanted to write America’s shadow story—the characters popular history crops from the frame. My home state of West Virginia has produced no great men, in the old sense of that phrase, no presidents, but hundreds of thousands have lived and died there, a rich human pageant. This novel is my bid to give them back their stories.
My dad had a good buddy on Fenwick Mountain named Brown. He was a mine foreman from Richwood, one of the boomtowns on which the novel’s Helena is based, in Nicholas County, where I was born. One summer day when I was eight or nine years old, Brown took us to visit a friend of his, an ex–coal miner. The friend was hunched over and shuffled as he walked—he lived off a disability check. After a long round of talk, he led us to what he called his museum, a cramped room in the attic of his farmhouse. Tables overflowed with shellacked hornets’ nests, shed antlers, obsolete hand tools, arrowheads and pestles, the skulls of bobcats, and stone-hard clutches of burrs from the American chestnut, gone a hundred years. But most impressive to me: on the backside of his mountain, the remains from a logging camp. He had picked his way down there and raked the earth to find what was left. He placed a spent pineknot in my palm, no bigger than a hand grenade, and explained how the loggers lit their way of a night, using the pitch as a torch. He had found their bottle dump and its wonders, like the three-sided blue bottles that once contained arsenic, bringing up visions of poisonings, of jealousies and fist fights in high mountain camps, far from the law. Last he led us to the garage, where he kept antiquated logging tools: drag chains, harnesses, the crosscut saw the loggers called the misery whip. After we’d waved good-bye to his friend, Brown spoke of the man’s loneliness. I looked back through the window of the truck, where I sat on the bench seat between Brown and my dad. He had gone back inside. Like that man, the keeper of those things, a novelist desires objects, textures, physicality. A novelist reconstructs vanished lives.