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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What I’m Reading: Mr Splitfoot

Becky’s Soundbite Review of Mr Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt:
Creepy and compelling, this contemporary Gothic has much to offer a wide range of readers. Ruth and Nat are orphans living in a severely religious and corrupt group home who begin conducting seances to contact the dead or missing parents of their fellow orphans. Many years later, Cora, Ruth’s single and pregnant adult niece awakens to find her Aunt Ruth, who she has not seen in many years, has returned, mute, to lead Cora on a journey across northern NY State on foot.  Where are they headed? Where has Ruth been all these years? The skillfully told dual narratives, move back and forth between the two time frames, compelling readers to join Ruth and Cora, following both the women and the clues from the past into the present.  Plot twists, lyrical language, and a heartbreakingly beautiful ending make this a satisfying read.
Further Appeal Notes: For such a lyrical novel, with sentences that beg to be re-read, and for one with such a focus on the characters-- particularly Ruth and Cora-- this is a surprisingly compelling novel. It could have been much more methodically paced since much of the action in Cora’s storyline involves her and Ruth simply walking, with only Cora talking because in the present storyline, Ruth cannot or will not talk. [Don’t worry, this “or” question is resolved.] But it is not slow at all. Much of this is a result of the well constructed dual storylines. Each separate storyline is intriguing, but it is the frequent switching back and forth that drives the action and keeps readers turning the pages. Readers are compelled forward to find out what in the past is driving the storyline in the present. And rest assured, there is no confusion here because the Ruth of the past and Cora in the present are such unique and strong narrators that you clearly know which storyline and time frame you are in at all times.

This is also a story about a journey, about the limited choices poor kids have, especially poor women. It is a novel about the place, far upstate NY, too.  There is a reverence for the natural beauty of the place, but it is balanced with a sadness about what it is like to live there too.

I cannot stress enough how beautifully this novel ends. It may not be a typical or standard example of a closed ending, but it is resolved beautifully and movingly. Readers who enjoyed the journey will be satisfied.

This is a surprising book in that it is not your typical story in any way; however, I do think it would appeal to a wide range of readers nonetheless. As I mention below, it reminded me greatly of Karen Russell and Wiley Cash, two authors who I would also describe this exact way.

Three Words That Describe This Book: atmospheric, parallel narratives, lyrical

Readalikes: The publisher says Mr Splitfoot is for fans of Aimee Bender and Kelly Link.  I agree with that, but I felt more of a connection to Karen Russell and in particular, Swamplandia! Both are atmospheric and follow young women on the outskirts of “normal society” who are on a journey. They are also equally as lyrical with a strong sense of place [just different places]. They are also offbeat with a slightly mystical or magical element.

Also, I don’t like the idea that a female author can only trigger female author read likes because the first author I thought of when reading Mr Splitfoot was Wiley Cash. Here is a sample of what I said in my review of his debut novel A Land More Kind Than Home:
This is a beautifully wrought story that at every turn gives you more than you expected.  The "plot" involves the killing of a mute child at a prayer "healing" by the creepy preacher mentioned above.  But we know from the first pages that the child will die.  Thus, this novel is not about the murder.  It is about rural communities and the intimate links between the people who live there.  And it is about the setting.  In the end this is a story where a drama unfolds, a conflict which has it roots back a generation from the current murder, and once we reach the last page, everything has changed and yet, at the same time, we are back to the way it always was.
Much of the commentary here about the appeal of this story also holds true for Hunt’s novel.

Finally, try Delicious Foods by James Hannaham. How the stories are told with a manipulated time frame, the overall ominous tone, and the theme of lives lived on the edges of “normal" society, are all shared here.

Please click on the links for both the authors and the specific titles in this readalike section to find many more readalike options.

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