Literary Criticism and Significance
The Marrowbone Marble Company's sweeping historical plot, unique setting, and wealth of interesting characters might well make it a classic in American literature. Glenn Taylor possesses the ability to teach his readers about morality and history without coming across as self-righteous or judgmental. His personal knowledge of life in West Virginia provides readers with an insider's perspective, giving the novel a feel reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird (minus Harper Lee's incomparable prose).
While many reviews have criticized Marrowbone as not being as impressive as Taylor's first novel, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, the book is not without significant literary merit. Taylor's use of dialect and dialogue make for an interesting read, and he couples that language with the idiosyncrasies of small-town America during the 1950s and 1960s. His discussion of race relations and politicians' tendencies to use impoverished people's votes and benefits for their self-serving interests is precise and historically relevant. Likewise, Taylor's choice to combine a World War II veteran's struggle to adjust to life after the war with the Civil Rights Movement helps readers—even those who did not live through those decades—to vividly imagine the internal and external turmoil present in most Americans during the book's time period.
Critics of Marrowbone point out Taylor's dependence on stereotypes. Eric Miles Williamson, reviewing the novel for The Washington Post, wrote that "many characters are no more than stereotypes" and specifically cites Orb, who is an innocent, simple-minded prophet who suffers at the hands of the novel's cruel villains. What might also bother readers is Part II's plot-driven rather than character-development focus. In the first section of the novel, Taylor offers his reader a thorough glimpse into Loyal Ledford's character, but none of the other characters are ever fully developed, and Rachel, especially, seems to be the stereotypical loyal wife.
Despite those critiques, The Marrowbone Marble Company is an inspiring novel that promotes the idea that a country needs visionaries who are unafraid to confront personal vices and social injustices. Taylor successfully creates such a character in Loyal Ledford and surrounds him with historical detail and well-researched insight into marble making and homegrown civil rights organizations, causing his readers to feel that they have gained a wealth of unique knowledge from reading this work.