In a world with few survivors and fewer rules, words become a lifeline.
Set after a civil war and deadly fevers decimate the country, Hagy’s (Boleto, 2012, etc.) new novel is a slim and affecting powerhouse. The nameless main character is a scribe who lives alone in her family’s Appalachian farmhouse. Under the watchful eye of local overseer Billy Kingery and the Uninvited, a migrant group living on her land, she finds a way to exist in relative harmony with the people who worshiped her late sister but only tolerate her. In order to protect herself from her neighbors, she barters her gift of writing letters “on behalf of the guilty and possessed.” When a mysterious man named Hendricks asks her to write a letter for him, an unknowable (yet devastating) series of events is set in motion. As Hendricks and the narrator each fulfill their end of the bargain, the secrets they have been keeping from themselves and each other are unearthed. When the letter is completed, she must journey through the wild and dangerous terrain to a crossroads to deliver it. Hagy is a careful writer; each sentence feels as solid and sturdy as stone. The descriptions of nature are especially lush: “air-burned hints of lightning” and “the sunset was the color of persimmons.” Steeped in folklore, the mystical and unexplainable lace themselves throughout the novel: Dreams bleed into reality; apparitions appear; time becomes malleable. Stories—whether written, oral, or biblical—are at the book’s center. In this post-apocalyptic world, the stories we tell about ourselves and others can be a matter of life or death.
Timely and timeless; a deft novel about the consequences and resilience of storytelling.