The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart Essay - Critical Essays

M. Glenn Taylor

Literary Criticism and Significance

Published in May of 2008, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart is M. Glenn Taylor’s first novel and a finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award. The novel combines legend, fact, and fiction to create a fantastical tale that weaves together over 100 years of history. Many reviewers were simultaneously awed and baffled at the scope, tone, and ambition of the novel, calling it a “galloping, defiant epic” with a “fusion of anguish, farce and dumb perplexity.” It is an energetic and impressive story, one that covers the broad spectrum of the “fantastic human circus” of life. The story, claiming to be a ballad singing of the amazing feats of the legendary Trenchmouth Taggart, finds its biggest strength in the unique and dynamic character of Trenchmouth himself, who is “defiantly incredible” and a “marvelous jump-off-the-page” character who is a “fabulous action man” for the events surrounding the coal mining wars. In addition, his dabbling in numerous trades, unique mouth affliction, and representation of the best of Appalachian culture add to his charm, endearing him to readers.

The athletic, sarcastic, and cut-throat tone of the novel is unique and invigorating, one that is incisive in its summary of human inanities and remarkably sympathetic to the sufferings of the human condition. Most critics agree that the novel flagged a bit toward the end, when Trenchmouth re-emerges into the 1990s; one reviewer noted that balanced brevity is often key and that Taylor stretched his story too long, dragging the reader to an unexciting ending. The pacing—jumping from long flurries of episodic history to brief stretches of seclusion in the mountains—also threw people off and led some critics to conclude that Taylor’s historical recountings were insincere and incomplete.

Taylor’s novel has been described as Forrest Gump with a streak of Flannery O’Connor. It has been compared to other classic southern authors like William Faulkner and even to Nikolai Gogol in that they present some similar perplexities. Some have labeled it as merely a regional novel, while others found it to be a larger metaphor for the stripping, mining, and degradation of all lands, principles, and cultures at the hands of corporate manipulation, technological advances, and moral decline. The character of Trenchmouth, the historical references, and the tone and scope of the novel will be appreciated for years to come.