Monday, July 16, 2012
Harper Collins, 2012
Laurel Shelton and her brother Hank live alone in the Cove, a piece of land in the Appalachians of North Carolina. Their parents bought this land cheap because the locals have long considered it to be cursed. It doesn’t help that Laurel has a deep purple birthmark on her face that has marked her as a witch and further ostracized her from the people in town. While Hank was away fighting in World War I, Laurel led a lonely existence on the farm, an elderly neighbor her only friend. Now that Hank has come back from the war, wounded and without one hand, she is not sure they can survive without help. She is living day to day, wondering what their future might be.
One day Laurel hears a flute on the mountain and she follows the sound to a solitary man who has set up camp there. Without telling Hank, she finds herself sneaking up there to spy on the man. One day she finds him ill and brings him to their cabin to nurse him back to health. Walter is mute and can only communicate by written notes, but his presence brings new life to the cabin – and to Laurel. Soon Walter is helping Hank on the farm, but he and Laurel have fallen in love and have made plans to run away together. Unfortunately, the local army recruiter hears rumors of this stranger and discovers that Walter is hiding something that once discovered could have tragic consequences.
Although this novel has lovely language that makes the story come alive, the ending was so devastating, disturbing and disappointing that I'm having difficulty reviewing it fairly. Why build such a captivating story if it ends like this? Why create some characters that are so realistic and likeable and then create another character that has so much power and corruption that he can completely take over the novel and ruin it? I can't decide if the author just couldn't decide how to end the story (what's wrong with a deserving character being happy for once in her poor life?) or if he wanted to shock complacent readers. Or maybe he just wanted his novel to be unpredictable.
I loved this book until it ended. Then I promptly forgot all about it until it was time for this review. Maybe that says it all.
Other novels by this author:
One Foot in Eden (2002)
Saints at the River (2004)
The World Made Straight (2006)
Other titles you may enjoy:
This Rock by Robert Morgan (2001)
In the Appalachian Mountains of the 1920s, the Powell brothers struggle to figure out their place in the world and their relationship with each other, as Moody drifts into alcohol and gambling, while Muir's path changes their family forever.
Nightwoods by Charles Frazier (2011)
Named the guardian of her murdered sister's troubled twins, Luce struggles to build a family with the children before being targeted by the twins' father--her sister's killer--who believes that the children are in possession of a stolen cache of money.
Work Song by Ivan Doig (2010)
In 1919, itinerant schoolteacher Morrie Morgan journeys to Butte in the hopes of making his fortune in copper mining but finds instead a rich assortment of local characters before an encounter with a former student leads to a violent union uprising.