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Honey from the Lion

Matthew Neill Null

Lookout Books
$18.95 paperback
5.5 x 8.5  
264 pages
Published in 2015

In this lyrical and suspenseful debut novel, a turn-of-the-century logging company decimates ten thousand acres of virgin forest in the West Virginia Alleghenies—and transforms a brotherhood of timber wolves into revolutionaries.

After fleeing his childhood farm in the wake of scandal, Cur Greathouse arrives at the Cheat River Paper & Pulp Company’s Blackpine camp, where an unlikely family of sawyers offers him new hope. But the work there is exacting and dangerous—with men’s worth measured in ledger columns. Whispers of a union strike pass from bunk to bunk. Against the rasp of the misery whip and the crash of felled hemlock and red spruce, Cur encounters a cast of characters who will challenge his loyalties: a minister grasping after his dwindling congregation, a Syrian peddler who longs to put down his pack and open a store, a slighted Slovenian wife turned activist, and a trio of reckless land barons. Cur must accept or betray the call to lead a rebellion—and finally reconcile a forbidden love.

Manuel Muñoz says of reading Matthew Neill Null’s image-rich prose, “The real pleasure—and certainly not the only one—is in the sentences, as complex, deliberately assured, and lethal as Flannery O’Connor’s.” A startling elegy that establishes its author as a tremendous new literary voice, Honey from the Lion evokes the ecological devastation and human tragedy behind the Gilded Age, and sings both the land and ordinary lives in all their extraordinary resilience.



“In one of the most assured debuts of the year, Matthew Neill Null tells the story of an American tragedy that began when Union soldiers from wealthy Eastern families first saw West Virginia’s thousands of acres of nearly impenetrable virgin forest. Honey from the Lion brings to mind the literature-as-history triumphs of E. L. Doctorow and Denis Johnson, yet Null is specific unto himself. His compressed, lyrical prose penetrates every darkness and wheels through time like a soaring bird.” —Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Quiet Dell and Lark and Termite
“Rich in history, speech, incident, flora, fauna, vernacular, geology, politics—Matthew Neill Null’s work is dazzling. It’s hard to believe this is fiction and not the firsthand account of the spirit of a place and time long past.He seems to know every shrub and burrow, how it formed, who owned it from the first European settlement and before. If anything ever happened in the state of West Virginia, Null knows the long and short of it, and will make its story sing.”
—Salvatore Scibona, author of The End
“Beautiful prose, vivid characterization, and meticulous research make Honey from the Lion an exceptional debut. Matthew Neill Null is a gifted and serious writer we need to pay attention to.” —Ron Rash, author of Serena
“Eclectic and fearless in his mix of old and new; guttural and lyrical by turns, or often both at the same time; brilliant at conjuring voices of every stripe and type, ethnic provenance, social class, and gender, in a West Virginia boomtown 125 years ago; knowing in many domains—in fact a dazzling polymath with the lexicons of geology, hunting, popular religion, immigrant history, and frontier economics at his disposal—Matthew Neill Null is bound to become one of the most admired and influential fiction writers of his generation. He is the only writer I know—besides Edward P. Jones in The Known World—who has the chops to represent the American past in a way that is richly credible for its period and yet stylistically daring.” —Jaimy Gordon, author of Lord of Misrule
“The timber boom of the early twentieth century logged out the great virgin spruce forests of West Virginia. The devastation was complete. No tree escaped the saw. From mountaintops the once green land looked like ‘a mutilated sea.’ Matthew Neill Null elegantly and eloquently addresses this ecological tragedy and its attendant human diminishment in this thoughtful and moving novel.” —Joy Williams, author of The Quick and the Dead
Honey from the Lion is provocative in its exploration of transgression and redemption and exhilarating in its lyric evocations of this rugged American landscape. Matthew Neill Null establishes himself as a perceptive seer of haunted souls and as an astonishing stylist. Honey from the Lion is a debut to celebrate.” —Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth and Find Me
“Matthew Neill Null recreates a time and place in our nation’s history in which the trajectory of progress seemed limitless and the wilderness and its resources inexhaustible. With exquisitely wrought characters, including the land itself, he takes us into the souls of the unremembered underdogs whose lives were ultimately the price of that progress. In this powerful novel, Null gives us a starkly vivid American story that is, at its dark heart, nothing less than the story of America.” —Lydia Peelle, author of Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing
Honey from the Lion is a master performance. Industry, capital, religion, class, race, and unionization are all rendered through the fully realized loggers, vigilantes, industrialists, and preachers that Null conjures so utterly and empathetically. You will be awed and emptied by this book, and the truth and humanity within it. Honey from the Lion isn’t just beautiful—it’s important. Read it now.” —Smith Henderson, author of Fourth of July Creek
“Matthew Neill Null writes with great originality about a place, West Virginia, that his singular vision has made universal. He illuminates the mercenary side of American history—its rapacity and greed—and also the resistance and protest that this novel itself so eloquently represents.” —Zachary Lazar, author of I Pity the Poor Immigrant
Honey from the Lion is a magisterial achievement, suffused with the Faulknerian values of love, honor, pity, pride, compassion, and sacrifice, concerning nothing less than the cohesion of an American civilization. Matthew Null is a brilliant writer and his first novel is a gift.” —Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena