Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Allen Wier

Committee Members

Michael Knight, Thomas Haddox, Robert J. Norrell


This creative dissertation is a novel entitled The Half-life of a Good Place. Set in the twin cities of Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia, in 1994, a year of cultural and economic change, the novel's plot develops around a search for a missing woman. The threat of violence underlying the woman's disappearance aggravates existing tensions in the towns, and the novel explores how the geographic border of the state line, with its inextricable political, social, and cultural borders, determines individual and community identity in the Bristols.

In an effort to provide a comprehensive perspective on place, chapters in the novel alternate between five distinct points of view. Four third-person, limited points of view belong to: Joseph Polk, a jeweler whose ancestors helped found the Bristols; Nora Polk, Joseph’s great-granddaughter and Bristol Country Club lifeguard; Daniel Clifford, an archaeologist who has left Guatemala to teach at Virginia Intermont College; and Emil Kot, a foreign exchange student from Gdansk, Poland, who views the world through the lens of the periodic table of the elements. A first-person point of view—that of Alexander Getman, a brakeman on the Norfolk Southern Railroad—hovers above the other points of view and narrates the most climactic scenes in the novel, events Alexander witnesses as he crosses the state border on the train. Each of the main characters contribute to narrative structure; for example, Joseph Polk’s narration provides a historical backdrop to recent events in the Bristols, and Emil Kot’s preoccupation with the periodic table of the elements gives rise to the novel’s chapter structure and form, as each chapter is titled after one of the 109 elemental symbols appearing on the Periodic Table in 1994. My critical introduction therefore examines the choices I have made concerning craft, with reference to writers and critics such as Eudora Welty, Stuart Dybek, and Michael Kreyling, whose work has been influential on my own treatment of structure, point of view, and place.

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