Western North Carolina Woman

MariJo Moore’s The Diamond Doorknob
a book review by byron ballard

I first met the writer MariJo Moore in her delicious little book Crow Quotes and I followed her career as a columnist in the Asheville Citizen-Times. She is a vibrant wordsmith who documents the little-publicized lives of non-reservation American Indians (a term she prefers to “Native Americans”). Her work encompasses women’s issues, substance abuse and recovery, physical and sexual abuse, family dynamics and a deeply felt spiritual practice.

Oh, did I mention she’s funny?

Her most recent book is The Diamond Doorknob, published in paperback by Renegade Planets Publishing. According to Moore, this occasionally autobiographical novel has been twenty years a-birthing, and it’s often been heavy labor. But the result of all that blood, sweat and tears is a novel unlike any I’ve read.

It begins with an act so repellent that the quality of writing alone is what propelled me forward. Moore has some of the quirkiest characters you’re likely to encounter—her short stories (which I also recommend) are peopled with folks who stand on the bridge between myth and modern life. I am often fooled by her characters, rushing to judgment early on only to find there was more to them than met the eye. I was fooled this way by a couple of the characters in The Diamond Doorknob (will I never learn?), disappointed that they seemed two-dimensional, only to have them blossom out a few pages later. This was true of Willie Dee and again of Levi. These characters—so flawed, so expertly drawn—capture the imagination.

And there’s one scene that I replay in my head as though watching a play. Cloud, the young woman whose life we follow through he course of the book, visits her mother and grandmother in Lauderdale County after a terrible fire. It’s straight out of the world of Greek tragedy. Look here—

Cloud walked into the bedroom that was tinted orange from the glow of the glass front of a small pot-bellied stove in the corner. The room was so hot, Cloud felt faint but steadied herself. The old woman looked asleep. breathing deeply, making a wheezing sound that filled the room. Her face looked much smaller than Cloud remembered. Her long thick silver hair was spread out on the pillows. Madi whispered softly to her sister, “Kilo tsatvhido hedoha. Someone is here to visit you.”... She kissed her grandmother again, and then gave Madi a hug.

“Hiyvwiya. You are Indian,” Madi whispered into Cloud’s ear. “Holiga. You know this.” Cloud smiled at Madi in answer.

The Diamond Doorknob ends with Cloud coming to the highlands of her ancestors, coming home to her heritage, still following the spiritual calling that has led her this far. I invite you to pick up a copy of this book at your local bookseller and enter this hard and beautiful world.


Western North Carolina Woman
is a publication of INFINITE CIRCLES, INC.

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Celebrating the Spirit of Place in Western North Carolina