“Coming Home: A Stranger In The Smokies”: Review

Posted: June 6th, 2023 | Filed under: Book Review, Ruminations | 2 Comments »

Before advising why you should consider reading John Wade Christensen’s “Coming Home: A Stranger In The Smokies,” allow me please to answer the question being asked by the elephant now staring over my shoulder.

Were it not so worthy of your time, would I be reviewing this book for public consumption?

Transparent answer: Yes.

John Christensen — the Wade he included to distinguish himself from another author — is my good friend.

During the halcyon daze of the 70s, when he wrote features, music reviews and sports for the Louisville Times, he was my next door neighbor.

He was my runnin’ podner.

There are tales. Some of which could be shared if there was time. Many of which shall remain sealed in a lock box hidden beneath the floor boards.

(I am referenced twice in the book, once in the acknowledgments, once in the text.)

For decades, he desired to write a book about his spiritual quest and evolution.

So he has.

He found the catalyst during his last assignment for the Turner Media Beast in the early ’00s.

A terrorist, Eric Rudolph, was on the loose. Allegedly in the mountains of western North Carolina. The epicenter of the search was the burg of Andrews, N.C. (Pop under 2,000).

Christensen went to investigate how the media/ FBI invasion during the search for the scofflaw had affected the bucolic town in the Appalachians.

What he discovered was a neighborliness, depth and sense of common decency that is long lost for the most part in contemporary times.

Christensen is observant and perceptive, a good listener. A journalist by trade and craft, he writes clearly and precisely, revealing the full nature of the folks he meets and gets to know.

Of the property of a loner named McClure he spotted while driving through the countryside, he writes:

A few feet from the pond was the faded green chair he had been sitting in when I spotted him. There was another chair a few feet away, and in it was a box of bright red shotgun shells. Leaning against the chair was a glittering, black-barreled shotgun, cold and alien in this lush green landscape.

“McClure saw me eyeing the gun. “I been tryin’ to shoot a snake,'”he said. “He’s eatin’ my fish.”


There was a book lying in the chair where he’d been sitting, old and much used from the look of it. 

“What’re you reading?”

He held it up. Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations.” On a shelf below the raccoon skin* were two more books — Modern Library editions of works by Plato and Aristotle.

*(Elsewhere Christensen had described the inside of the fellow’s home.)

In those short paragraphs and a couple others, the writer reveals the fullness of the fellow he met by chance.

Christensen’s micro scrutiny of the townsfolk evolves into macro understandings, as how a sense of place and home and genuine caring foster serenity.

How the experience and interaction with the welcoming citizenry provided succor to gain relief from his own “stuff,” those issues that had lingered from messages received in childhood, the ones that can be so hard to shake.

At less than 200 pages, “Coming Home: A Stranger In The Smokies” is a crisp and revealing read.

There is a duality to it.

An examination of oft misperceived rural America.

And, how our more serene self can be discovered when least expected.

— c d kaplan

2 Comments on ““Coming Home: A Stranger In The Smokies”: Review”

  1. 1 John Wade Christensen said at 4:40 pm on June 6th, 2023:

    An observant bystander could argue that I am not a disinterested party, and I agree.
    Nevertheless, I have to say that is the best review of my book that I’ve seen yet.

    As for those “tales” you reference, many of which were launched in the lovely, leafy Highlands, I’ve got two more books in the works. Maybe three. The adventure continues.

    Beautiful job. Many thanks.

  2. 2 Allen Bush said at 9:53 am on June 7th, 2023:

    Lovely review C.D. And thanks for sharing the with me that I enjoyed very much. Just returned from a 2-day dash to western North Carolina. I lived not so far from Andrews, on the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Fletcher, NC for 15 years. My neighbors were suspicious of me at first. A Grizzly Adams beard didn’t help, but that changed and I later shaved. I am forever grateful for “neighborliness.”

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