A Novel

Blair  |  October 22, 2019


Lucy Kilgore has her bags packed for her escape from her rural Tennessee upbringing, but a drunken mistake forever tethers her to the town and one of its least-admired residents, Jeptha Taylor, who becomes the father of her child. Together, these two young people work to form a family, though neither has any idea how to accomplish that, and the odds are against them in a place with little to offer other than tobacco fields, a bluegrass bar, and a Walmart full of beer and firearms for the hunting season. Their path is harrowing, but Lucy and Jeptha are characters to love, and readers will root for their success in a novel so riveting that no one will want to turn out the light until they know whether this family will survive.

In luminous prose, debut novelist Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne brings us a present-day Appalachian story in the tradition of Lee Smith, Silas House, and Wiley Cash, cast without sentiment or cliché, but with a genuine and profound understanding of the place and its people.

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Advance Praise

Holding On To Nothing is a resonant song of the South, all whiskey, bluegrass, Dolly Parton, tobacco fields, and women who know better but still fall for the lowdown men whom they know will disappoint them. Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne writes with extraordinary love and compassion of the lives of her flawed characters; she shines a clear, calm light on their tragedies, their joys, and their hard-won redemptions.

—Lauren Groff, Florida and Fates and Furies

Forget Hillbilly Elegy and read this gorgeous novel instead. Every detail is exactly right. Contemporary themes of work and no work, drinking, sex, guns, music, community, and no future―along with in-depth character development and a hard-driving plot―make this a book you literally cannot put down.

—Lee Smith, Dimestore: A Writer’s Life and The Last Girls

With her immense empathy for her characters, Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne refuses to give the reader a simple, and stereotypical, tale of Appalachian dysfunction. Instead, we get a story of a seemingly star-crossed couple striving to create a better life in the most trying of circumstances. Holding On To Nothing is a gem.

—Ron Rash, Serena

With unflinching candor imbued with love and understanding, Elizabeth Shelburne’s evocative debut novel explores the meaning of family and the choices people make when the world denies them good options. A compassionate but unsentimental tale of love, loss, and hardship in modern-day Appalachia.

—Whitney Scharer, The Age of Light

Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne’s debut novel sings and burns in equal measure. Holding On To Nothing is a gripping story of love and place, of the small choices and large passions that determine our lives, of the gorgeous hope that tomorrow will bring something solid and sturdy, something lucky and true.

Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This and Corpus Christi: Stories

Following in the literary footsteps of Silas House’s debut novel Clay’s Quilt, Holding Onto Nothing is a tragically beautiful tale of love, loss, music, and blue-collar mountain life. Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne is a fresh contemporary Appalachian voice that I hope to hear from again and again.

—Amy Greene, Bloodroot and Long Man

Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne writes with a chafe and charm that makes you give a damn about these flawed characters, Lucy and Jeptha, makes you root for them when what little they have is at risk. This novel has all the makings of a true ballad—heartache and dead ends, booze and bad decisions, two-timing relatives, a hand-me-down mandolin, and a loyal dog named Crystal Gayle. It also has a deep humming heart that knows sorrow. Like Lucy’s beloved Dolly Parton, Holding On To Nothing is not just country, it’s mountain. Shelburne is a literary force to be reckoned with.

Susan Bernhard, author of Winter Loon

In this gritty debut, Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne deftly captures the blue-collar ache and darkly comic sensibility of what it means to exist in a world of disappointment and generational trauma, where one is both cussed and cursed. It’s impossible to turn away as these hardscrabble characters embark on a long shot at love despite voices real and imagined that shout in dissent. A stunning debut by a fierce new voice in southern fiction.

Kelly J. Ford, author of Cottonmouths

Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne writes with an unprecedented lyricism that is both highly literary and charmingly accessible. From the opening moments of this page-turner, the reader can’t help but surrender to the titanic love affair that is Jeptha and Lucy. The storytelling is so masterful and enchanting that no matter what happens, you know you’re safe with Shelburne at the helm.

—Jennie Wood, author of A Boy Like Me and Flutter

Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne’s complex, moving portrait of Jeptha—universally dismissed as a loser in his small town in Tennessee, but who, in Shelburne’s hands, is a wounded, sensitive soul who was never taught how to be the good man he longs to be—resonates long after the final chapter . . . Holding On To Nothing marks the debut of an important new author of Southern fiction.

—Lisa Borders, author of The Fifty-First State and Cloud Cuckoo Land

Holding On To Nothing is a smart, wry novel filled with bourbon, bluegrass, grit, and heart.

Patricia Park, author of Re Jane

Holding On To Nothing is a novel of big skies and limited choices, of sweet bluegrass in a sticky hometown bar, of tobacco and guns, danger and desire. Shelburne shoots straight, never allows us to turn our heads. And even non-praying folk will pray for the desperate mismatch of Lucy and Jeptha and their lonely, shivering hearts. Shelburne has done the small town novel a wondrous turn.

—Michelle Hoover, The Quickening


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