Coffey (The Devil Walks in Mattingly, 2014, etc.) spins a wicked tale about Campbell’s Mountain, where lurk "hungry things that existed only in madness and nightmares."
"Curse ye," cries Alvaretta Graves, a crone whose "power lay in something beyond fists and iron." Four teens have confronted Alvaretta at her ramshackle mountain cabin above Crow Hollow, an isolated Virginia village. There’s Cordelia Vest, daughter of Bucky Vest, local constable; Naomi Ramsay, whose father preaches at First Crow Hollow Church of the Holy Spirit on Fire; and Scarlett Bickford, the mayor’s daughter. Scarlett lost Cordelia’s mother’s diamond bracelet. Alvaretta found it. But Alvaretta hates everyone in Crow Hollow, blaming them for her husband’s death years past. Scarlett turns mute. Cordelia’s face is paralyzed. Naomi develops uncontrollable palsy. Soon other village girls display similar symptoms. An omniscient narrator, all hillbilly twang, relates the tale to an anonymous passerby, giving him "a front row seat on the folly of man." Mass hysteria? Doc Sullivan thinks so, but Crow Hollow folk "know there’s more to the world than what you can find in books." Then Medric Johnston, funeral home owner and the Hollow’s lone African-American, is forced to disinter Stu Graves’ coffin. What’s there becomes a cancer eating the Hollow’s soul. With its internal dichotomy between folk magic and psychological implosion—either interpretation palatable—Coffey’s tale is peopled with nuanced characters: Chessie and Briar Hodge are churchgoing moonshiners; burnt-out John David, a pastor’s son home from Middle Eastern wars; and Bucky, a Barney Fife–like figure whose love for Cordelia inspires courage as his town descends into anarchy. With hate confronting guilt and terror overwhelming rationality, Coffey’s story blends folklore, superstition, and subconscious dread in the vein of Shirley Jackson’s "The Lottery."
A Southern Gothic morality tale edging into the supernatural.