Hulse follows up her strong debut (Black River, 2015) with an even stronger novel about the fallout from an act of domestic terrorism.
When Josephine Faber learns that her brother, Samuel, has fled after bombing a Montana district courthouse, it caps the string of losses that have shaped her life. Her father was killed in a mine collapse when she was a baby, and an enraged ex-boyfriend shot and killed their mother when Jo was 10 and Samuel, 17; a stray bullet left Jo paralyzed. Samuel’s terrible act—12 people at a nearby storefront church were injured, and the pastor’s young daughter is in critical condition—was provoked by the impending loss of their house, about to be torn down by the state to build a new highway. Jo is horrified but not surprised; Samuel was a virulent racist in high school, and although he burned his Nazi flag and wears long-sleeved shirts over his swastika tattoo, she’s aware that his anti-government ideas remain the same. But her brother has tenderly cared for her for more than a decade, and she can’t stop loving him. The story unfolds slowly, mingling Jo’s account with Samuel’s explanatory missive to her (written on a map she will later find) and the anguished internal monologues of pastor Asa Truth, whose faith has been badly shaken by his daughter’s injuries. He won’t get any help from Jo, a confirmed nonbeliever since her mother’s death, but they form a bond forged by mutual grief; Jo’s connection to protective Sheriff Hawkins is another relationship Hulse limns with sensitive acuity. Several harrowing scenes underscore Jo’s vulnerability due to her physical disability, but she still rides a cherished mule and tends to outdoor chores thanks to the various devices Samuel has rigged. Her struggles to paint pictures more meaningful than the pretty, sanitized canvases she sells to tourists form another strand of Hulse’s dense yet lucid narrative. The nail-biting denouement is violent yet restrained, an additional sign of this young writer’s mature artistic powers.
Reflective, evocative, and quietly moving.