Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt (2016)

Speculative Fiction
Adult
Mr. SplitfootThe final installment in my recent spate of weird and wonderful reading choices! Creepy and riveting, this novel presents a dual storyline about 15 years apart. The Love of Christ! Home for orphans and abandoned children is led by a religious fanatic more interested in the state’s cheques than the kids. Ruth is alone, abandoned by the mother who scarred her face with bleach, and her older sister who aged out of the home. Nat entertains and comforts his foster siblings by channelling dead spirits, including Mr. Splitfoot. He and Ruth are befriended by Mr. Bell, a con man who sees their fun as a surefire moneymaker. They soon have bags of money, but a sinister character intent on marrying Ruth sends them running. Hunt alternates this narrative with a contemporary one in which Ruth shows up, silent, to lead her niece Cora away from her married lover, a truly repugnant human being, who tries to abort her unplanned pregnancy. Within an hour the car breaks down, and the two women begin walking, though Cora has no idea where they are going. Ruth’s scar is disturbing to look at, enough that she and Cora use it to repel unwanted attention, what Cora calls a “shield of protection” (p. 60). Their slow pace and silence permit Cora to ponder her life and pending motherhood as the two women walk toward a resolution that will bring both storylines together. Hunt dodges readers’ questions about Nat’s supernatural skills, the cause of Ruth’s silence, and more. This coy approach results in a riveting story that puzzles and intrigues, with writing that occasionally stops you cold: “Here’s something crazy to think about,” a near-stranger tells the very pregnant Cora. “You have two deaths inside your body right now. That’s the only time that ever happens” (p. 197). Whoa. From the outset, I was never sure if I liked this book, but I didn’t want to put it down, and I loved the ending. Hunt mixes up religious fundamentalism with Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and the 1977 Voyager space missions to create a layered narrative that is at once horrifying and fascinating. I enjoyed how she wove in references to Sagan’s work, such as the “pale blue dot” of an old-school television warming up. Memorable characters, a complicated plot, authentic dialogue, social critiques of everything from literature to modern social media – it all contributes to make a remarkable novel. My thanks to publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the advance e-copy of this book, made available through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More reviews and discussion of this book: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23719481. I also found this review from New York Times particularly illuminating after I finished the book.
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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