Past and present, reality and dreams, harsh truths and dangerous delusions mingle intriguingly in this unusual fourth novel from the versatile author of vivid historical and contemporary fiction (The Mammoth Cheese, 2003, etc.).
In a fragmented set of narratives that move back and forth between Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains at the tail end of the Depression and the present day, Holman explores the repercussions of a country boy’s relocation to New York City, and the grasp that his past retains, shaping both his own life and those of his chosen and estranged loved ones. When 12-year-old Eddie Alley is accidentally struck by a car and injured, he’s thrust into a relationship with visiting WPA writer Tucker Hayes and the latter’s wife (and companion photographer) Sonia. An encounter with Eddie’s mother Cora, a locally renowned semi-recluse rumored to be a witch, changes Tucker’s life forever. And the power of Cora (an Eternal Feminine figure depicted with impressive intensity) follows the others back north. Eddie, whom Tucker had introduced to the bizarre pleasures of classic horror films, finds the big city a welcoming environment and achieves success as a comic TV horror-movie host (“Captain Casket”), marries (Ann) and fathers a daughter (Wallis). But when a homeless teenaged boy (Jasper) enters Eddie’s home, and his confused affections, it seems Cora will not be forgotten. Eddie’s feelings toward and about his mother remain unresolved. And the witch woman’s lingering aura haunts the imaginations and experiences of emotionally unstable Wallis, the eventually abandoned Ann and the sexually baffled Eddie, who will be further burdened by a steadily growing cancer (which is, sadly, much more than a metaphor). Holman tells this eerie tale with considerable skill, but it’s flawed by too-numerous time shifts and the discrepancy between the vivid, flinty scenes set in 1940 and later scenes that appear pallid and strained by comparison.
Flawed but intriguing work from an estimable novelist who keeps extending her range and never fails to surprise and engage.