Silas House

A Parchment of Leaves

  • This summary of A Parchment of Leaves includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

A Parchment of Leaves Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House.

A Parchment of Leaves is a work of American historical fiction by novelist, journalist, and environmental activist Silas House. Profiling American rural life in early 1900s Kentucky, it focuses on the ways of life of a community of white hill people, or “hillbillies,” who live alongside people from the native Cherokee tribe. Driven in different directions by deep familial loyalty, superstition, and social eccentricity, the hill people often clash with their friends and neighbors. While brothers Saul and Aaron walk up a mountain, they fall for Vine, a Cherokee girl. From there, Vine picks up the story, carving out the social and cultural impasse she sees between them as they all try to overcome it. Resonant with the instabilities and anxieties of World War I, A Parchment of Leaves is a meditation on the discontents, hopes, and limits of human connection.

The novel begins as Saul Sullivan, the elder brother of Aaron Sullivan, prepares to venture up the mountain near their small, but rapidly growing community. His employer, the developer Tate Masters, sends him on assignment to strip a large amount of timber from the mountain near a camp called Redbud. Aaron decides to trail Saul in secret, and brings along an ax, imagining that he might be allowed to help. Before they reach Redbud Camp, they meet Vine. Immediately, her beauty enamors Saul. Vine has a mythical local reputation of being alluringly beautiful, but untouchable, having a tendency to cast curses on people who come near her.

The narrative switches to Vine’s point of view. She quickly falls in love with Saul, stoking Aaron’s jealousy. They get married and have a child, whom they name Birdie. Saul, abruptly thrown from youth into adulthood, has a difficult time making enough money to care for his family. When World War I catalyzes the demand for new kinds of labor, he decides to take a job felling trees that the Army can use to make turpentine. The job takes him away from home for more than a year. Vine stays behind, living with Saul’s mother, Esme, and Aaron.

In Saul’s absence, Aaron seizes the opportunity to pursue Vine. His behavior amounts to stalking, causing Vine to become wary. When he finally confronts her directly, she rejects him angrily. Embittered, Aaron leaves town, returning months later with a new wife named Aida. They reveal that they are expecting a child. Aida and Aaron are not experienced with the problems of raising a family, causing Vine to step in out of familial duty to help them. At the same time, she juggles the community’s racism toward her. Vine finds that no matter how loyal she remains to the Sullivan family, she cannot neutralize the town’s vitriol. A permanent “outsider” due to her Cherokee heritage, she lives in constant fear that the town might rise up and hang her, should she step even slightly out of line.

Aaron quickly proves he unable to stop pursuing Vine. In a particularly troubling moment, he corners Vine, forcing her to fight him. Though Aaron does not make the attack public, she knows that he can use it to advantage against her. Finally, Saul’s year abroad ends, and he comes home. Vine decides not to tell him about the incident with Aaron, fearing that he will fall out of love with her. Repressing the event causes her to question the validity of their marriage.

Despite Aaron’s antagonism, Vine and Saul go on to lead a happy marriage, eventually parting ways from Aaron. The characters in A Parchment of Leaves ultimately move back and forth between the effects of anxiety and stoicism as their social landscape changes and the distant world war passes like a shadow over them. Despite this rapidly changing world, House’s protagonists discover the resilience and mutability of their love.