Tuesday, October 30, 2012
REVIEW: Witches on the Road Tonight, by Sheri Holman
Winner of the 2011 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, Witches on the Road Tonight is a great Halloweeny read. The book follows the fortunes of three members of an Appalachian family- matriarch Cora Alley, her son Eddie, and his daughter Wallis. The narrative bounces back and forth through time and shifts perspectives as well, but the story is clear and easy to follow nonetheless. The book opens in 1940., Photographer Sonia and mapmaker Tucker are documenting an area known as Panther Gap, for the WPA. Sonia is a documentarian who has traveled the world and Tucker is about to be drafted into World War 2. They hit young Eddie with their car and take him back to his house, remote in the woods. They are alone, but not for long; Cora comes home and invites them to stay the night. Neither traveler is ever heard from again.
In the present-day, Eddie, now older and retired from a career hosting the horror movie of the week, is sick with cancer and about to commit suicide. His sections are long, rambling letters to his daughter, a successful but very troubled television star herself. For her part, Wallis recounts the story of her family and particularly the story of Jasper, her foster brother, an orphan who idolized Eddie. His death is another mystery, another enigma that may or may not be solved.
My favorite parts of the book were those taking place in the past, in the thick woods of Panther Gap, dense and rich with atmosphere and the supernatural. Gruesome, strange rumors abound in the backwoods town after Tucker and Sonia disappear, and their disappearance continues to haunt Eddie and his wife, the patrician Ann. As Jasper comes into their lives, Wallis grows in resentment and jealousy, and begins to feel her grandmother's influence on her grow stronger.
Holman has crafted an engrossing novel of love, death and suspense; she's able to convey a lot of information through inference and suggestion, leaving lots of room for her vivid descriptions to stretch their lovely legs. I really enjoyed her writing above all else in this thicket of a novel. She creates as much out of a grimy New York backlot on a cold night as she does with the woods of Appalachia, and she colors her characters' emotional lives just as richly. I would recommend Witches on the Road Tonight for people who are not habitual horror readers but who would nonetheless like something enjoyable, suspenseful and just a little bit creepy.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.