A tiny New Hampshire river town, whose main industry is a paper mill, is rocked by a tragic accident.
By the mid-1990s, small American manufacturing operations are already losing ground, and jobs, to foreign competitors. However, Titan Falls, teetering on the steep banks of the polluted Androscoggin River, is still dependent on the Titan Mill, which converts lumber into paper and has been owned since time immemorial by the McAllister family. The mill employs most of the men, and June, spouse of the mill’s current scion, Cal McAllister, rules the wives—membership in her knitting circle is de rigueur. The orphaned, nomadic Snow children, Zeke and his fey sisters, Mercy and Hannah, have arrived in a rickety RV to claim the plot of land vacated by their late father, Pruitt. Hannah senses that the ghost of ancestor Gert Snow, a recluse who died under suspicious circumstances, hovers nearby, making mischief. Gert’s worst intervention is the event that launches the main plot—on the night before Thanksgiving, a church youth-group bus skids off a cliff while rounding an icy hairpin turn. Nate, June and Cal’s teenage son, and other passengers sustain only minor injuries, but Nate’s childhood best friend and secret love, Suzie, is killed. The bus driver, Fergus, husband of local sheepherder Hazel, hovers, comatose, on life support. (The skeletal remains of Gert are ominously recovered during the crash investigation.) The accident is pinned on Zeke, whose battered pickup is found nearby, crumpled against a tree. But what was one of Suzie’s bright red mittens, knitted from Hazel’s artisanal dyed yarn, doing in Cal’s pocket, June wonders. From such minutiae, Baker crafts her appealing, occasionally cloying mélange of magic realism, mystery and social commentary.
Baker (The Gilly Salt Sisters, 2012, etc.) has managed to carve out her own niche in this rocky North Woods terrain, largely due to her deeply flawed but likable characters.