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Gipe shares more about the idiosyncratic bounce in "Trampoline"

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Author Robert Gipe answered additional e-mail questions about his debut novel, Trampoline, which he also illustrated, and which Ohio University Press published recently. Gipe tells a coming-of-age story about 15-year-old Dawn Jewell, who narrates her seriocomic turbulent saga in a Kentucky coal-mining town in the late 1990s. Edited excerpts follow.—Editor Peter Szatmary

Trampoline grounds itself in what you refer to “outlaw hillbillies,” moonshine, getting religion, strip mining, and other gritty components often referenced in fictive depictions of rural Kentucky. Any trepidation about covering territory that some might consider clichés, not veracities?

I tried to make the book about how complicated it is to know anything. At some level, for me anyway, Trampoline is about how hard it is to know what has happened, who a person is, or even what we feel about a thing. If people are going to be reductive about things, they’re going to be reductive. That kind of reduction of understanding happens both inside and outside the region and there ain’t much to be done about it, in most cases anyway. I hope the book is particular enough that people who are interested in the complexity of things will get some pleasure in reading it.


What made you set the action in the late 1990s?

It is loosely based on the citizens’ effort to protect the highest reaches of Black Mountain from strip mining in 1998 and 1999.

You seem to live the motto, write what you know: You study Appalachia and you’ve held several blue-collar jobs before entering community-college academia.

I’m more comfortable writing about stuff I’ve had some experience with. And I like a good story. Our litmus for picking stories for Higher Ground [theater] has boiled down to this—we want stories that make you laugh, make you cry, or make you think. The Holy Grail is stories that do all three simultaneously. That kind of story is a goal in my own writing as well.


You majored in English at Wake Forest University and earned a master’s degree in American studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst. You slip in literary allusions—“Canard” County, for instance, references to Titian’s “Assumption of the Virgin,” not to mention the name Dawn Jewell—into a down-home yarn. That’s quite an undertaking: to have the characters, especially the narrator, come off as true to their tough, bittersweet rustic environment while at the same time adding some art/culture as touchstones.

I don’t have much to say about the motifs. Just trying to keep things interesting. I would also say that “rustic” people in this day and age are as likely to be interested/have experience with “art and culture” as anybody else.

Is Dawn modeled on anyone?

She’s been influenced by a number of people through the years. I have known many a heroic young woman around here over the past 25 years.


How does Dawn fit into the literary tradition of (young) womanhood?

Dawn’s just Dawn. She’s a hero to me, but more importantly, she’s a 15-year-old person trying to make it to 16. My favorite novel is True Grit [by Charles Portis], if that’s helpful. Push by Sapphire and The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis are also inspirations.

I sense influences such as Coal Miner’s Daughter, both the memoir and the film, Raylan/Justified, and The Kentucky Cycle. But those could be assumptions on my part. Who are your influences?

The Appalshop films, especially Roving Pickets, Nimrod Workman: To Fit My Own Category, and Red Fox/Second Hangin’ as well as the June Appal Recording Jack Alive! Gurney Norman. Charles Portis. David Simon. Richard Price. Emily Dickinson. Flannery O’Connor. My favorite short story is “The Birds for Christmas” by Mark Richard. I listed a few other favorites above.

For the record, I’ve never read or seen The Kentucky Cycle, and only a couple episodes of Justified. I do love Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Trampoline in many ways is about matriarchy, no? Dawn, of course, her troubled mother, the straight-and-narrow do-gooder Mamaw, et al. Men seem more as love interests, ne’er-do-wells, ghosts, cyphers, or (complicated) helpers.

Despite our best efforts, men usually end up being the least interesting gender in the room.


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