Magical realism comes to the Carolina Lowcountry in this quietly elegant debut novel by Hammes (Director, Creative Writing Program/Charleston County School of the Arts).
The “men with wings” of the title is no metaphor: There are men with wings flying about, “flocks of winged men in the sky,” and they’re not angels—even if, as we learn, they helped enslaved African people escape from the rice fields of the South Carolina coast and make their way north, and they continue to help by showing where game is hiding and where wells should be dug. One white family, the Walpoles, lives among the Gullah people, and when their daughter disappears in a moment worthy of The Secret of Roan Inish, that family begins to fall to pieces. It’s the girl’s brothers, Bohicket and Ley, who try to hold things together, meanwhile hatching plots of their own to find young Dew: “Had she drowned? They couldn’t say. Or had she been kidnapped by those, uh…creatures in the sky?” Revenge will be theirs, if only they can find the answer and maybe castrate the evildoers—and if Dew in fact survived the tumble from their johnboat into the waves. The search for Dew frames much of the story, but the real virtues of this well-spun yarn are its portrayal of the dynamic of a decidedly eccentric family and revealing look inside the little-known world of the island people, whose folk beliefs date back many centuries and prove to be of help in the Walpoles’ travails. Hammes often writes with a poet’s touch (“He just stood there aghast, quietly staring down at the question-mark shape of this last and final answer”), and if the story wanders into increasingly improbable territory, it’s one for which readers will gladly suspend disbelief.
A promising beginning. Readers with an interest in folklore, fantasy, and Southern letters alike will find this a treat.