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Coiled in the Heart

Coiled in the Heart is a story of guilt and the search for atonement, forbidden love, the eccentricities of family, the burden of the past, the New Madrid Fault, butterfly cultivation, the computer industry, antebellum mansions, football, cottonmouths, deconstructive conservation, and much more.

Tobia Caldwell, a scion of an old southern family prouder of its past, perhaps, than it ought to be, leads a boy named Ben Wilson, who has recently moved into the first subdivision house on what used to be Caldwell land, into a deadly encounter with a cottonmouth. Later in life, Tobia falls in love with Ben Wilson's twin sister, Merritt who knows nothing of Tobia's role in her brother's death. As Tobia and his father buy back and tear down the subdivision houses surrounding the ancestral manse using money they've made in the dot com boom, Tobia tries to come to terms with his past, spends time with a "cyber belle" named Robin Sackett, thinks about how he might best become a yeoman farmer and expunge his personal and communal guilt, and waits for Merritt's return from her work with the Red Cross in Angola.


-Literary Guild Alternate Selection
-Booksense 76 Pick
-Finalist for Best Fiction and Best First Fiction,
Texas Institute of Letters
-Library of Congress One Book One Community Selection
-Reader's Advice "Serious Southern Fiction" list

From Coiled in the Heart...

A serpent’s head breaks the riffles of the creek. Its ancient eyes return glints of moonlight. Without a ripple, it vanishes beneath the water to reappear a moment later in the creekside grass. It slides up the bank, the fluidity of its movement mirroring the stream in which its tail is, now, no longer immersed.

Moments later, Ben Wilson emerges from the same place in the creek. His head breaks the surface, and he stands in the shallows. Drops of moon-suffused water fall from his body. He fixes the old house up the hill with a look of otherworldly determination and sad, ineffable loss. He steps onto the bank-- a grown man, one year older than me, as he would have been-- and follows the serpent up the bank.

I sense the serpent’s history. It has flown the papyrus of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, left Genesis in the dust. This is the serpent that sent Eurydice to the Underworld, one half of the Aztec raingod Tlalac. This is the Chinese demon Nu-kua. It is the serpent on the staff of Asclepius, Greek god of medicine. It s-curves through the creekside grass and slides up the rise, slowly, on its belly, as the Bible decreed.

The March air is cool and does not give much warmth to the serpent’s blood. The moon lends its skin a silvery- blue tint. Its tongue flick- flicks for news. With each flick it pulls in and, with Jacobson’s organ, tastes the air.

This serpent has molted recently, slithered out of the translucent shell of its old skin, reborn into a fresh portion of the eternal life it snuffed from Gilgamesh. When it coils, the serpent is immortal. Its tail was; its head is. And then its head was its tail is.

The serpent glides easily up the four cracked and moss-covered steps and slides across the flaking paint floorboards on the front porch of this old house. It slithers between the legs of the wicker furniture and pauses there at the base of one of the Doric columns. It flick-flicks its tongue to taste the air. Its head rises slowly, lifts around… gains purchase and, so, it spirals neatly up the column and sloughs down onto the floor of the second story porch just outside the window of my childhood bedroom. It peers in the open window and whispers, Ben Wilson is coming is Wilson Ben.