A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Join The New York Times best-selling author and North Carolina native Wiley Cash as he highlights great writers across the state and their work each month. Listen in on conversations

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Join The New York Times best-selling author and North Carolina native Wiley Cash as he highlights great writers across the state and their work each month. Listen in on conversations

Our State Book Club With Wiley CashJoin The New York Times best-selling author and North Carolina native Wiley Cash as he highlights great writers across the state and their work each month. Listen in on conversations between Cash and his author friends as they discuss how North Carolina inspires them on the Our State Book Club podcast.


Growing up in Salisbury, Kristy Woodson Harvey noticed an abandoned house in her neighborhood. The home’s exterior had been kept up by caretakers, but no one had lived there for decades. One day, the young Harvey got to go inside, and she’s never forgotten what she saw.

“It was like walking into a time capsule,” she says. Legend held that the couple who owned the home had gotten into a fight, walked out on one another, and never looked back. “There were dishes on the table. There were kids’ toys in the bedrooms, where you could tell they had been playing earlier that day. There was a newspaper left on the coffee table.”

Harvey was haunted by these mysterious lives and by the house that had been left behind. What had it seen? What did it remember? What would it say if it could talk? Harvey often asks the same questions of the home she now shares with her husband and son in Beaufort. Harvey’s home was built in 1903 on the site where a colonial house once stood, which is not uncommon for this historic town.

“I love this metaphysical idea that our homes hold our story,” she says, “as well as the stories of everyone who has lived here before us and everyone who will live here after we’re gone.”

The memory of the abandoned house in Salisbury followed Harvey to Beaufort when her family moved there from Kinston eight years ago. She always imagined what it would be like to step into one of those historic homes that had been abandoned for decades, like the old house back in Rowan County.

As many writers do, Harvey went to the page to answer questions and puzzle through her memories. Her new novel, A Happier Life, tells the story of Keaton Smith, a young woman who steps into her own time capsule after leaving New York City and heading to Beaufort, where she must sell the old family home. Keaton struggles to make sense of her family’s history, and she feels herself being pulled into the past, regardless of how much she resists.

“I think Keaton embodies some of the struggle that I feel about growing up with really strong Southern traditions like entertaining and keeping house in a certain way, and all of the beautiful things that I love and want to hold on to. Many contemporary women work full time and have families,” she says. “And we also have 11 sports practices a week.”

It has become passé, especially in North Carolina, to quote the title of Thomas Wolfe’s posthumously published novel, the one about not being able to go home again, so I won’t do it here. But Harvey is someone who always thought she would move back to Salisbury one day.

“I was one of those kids who, when everyone else was saying, ‘I can’t wait to get out of Salisbury and never come back,’ was always like, ‘You’re crazy. I’m moving right back here as soon as I can.’”

Harvey didn’t go home, though. Not many of us do anymore. But as her new novel shows, home and the traditions built there follow you no matter where you go.


Behind Closed Doors

A Happier Life by Kristy Woodson Harvey

photograph by Matt Hulsman

The opening pages of Kristy Woodson Harvey’s new novel, A Happier Life, are narrated not by a person but by a historic waterfront home in Beaufort. The house pines for the days when children with sandy feet ran across its floors and the sounds of a dinner party echoed in its halls. It is this house that the novel’s heroine, Keaton Smith, steps into after fleeing a comically tragic work-life collision in New York City.

But the house and the town of Beaufort are foreign to Keaton: Both were secrets long kept by her mother after Keaton’s grandparents mysteriously disappeared before she was born, leaving behind a home frozen in time. Absent a job, Keaton is charged with selling the property so she can claim her commission and move on. But Beaufort and its residents are more charming than she expected, and the mysterious pull of her grandparents’ disappearance is too strong to deny. Harvey has written a hilarious, heartwarming mystery that questions how a past that has never passed can haunt us still.


More to Explore: Catch Kristy Woodson Harvey in conversation with Wiley Cash. New podcast episodes will be released July 2 and 16. Find out where to listen at ourstate.com/podcast.

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This story was published on Jun 12, 2024

Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash is the author of three books, most recently the novel The Last Ballad.