A damaged young orphan searches for answers in this grimly elegiac debut.
After an “unnamed and violently fatal disease” kills Nora Pirrip’s parents and siblings during the New England spring of 1791, the physically and emotionally scarred 18-year-old is left wondering why she alone survived the infection—and why no other Chilling residents fell ill. Nora burns down her plague-infested home and heads for the cemetery, where she discovers that her mother’s corpse is missing. According to the gravedigger’s apprentice, the body was stolen by Captain Murderer—a legendary ghost who haunts Satus House. Nora investigates only to discover that the hilltop mansion’s resident monster is not, in fact, a specter but Alexander Salderman, a disgraced British doctor with an illegal anatomy lab. Salderman won’t permit Nora to leave, so she enters his employ, simultaneously assisting his research and seeking the truth about her family’s fate. Chapters focusing on other villagers add depth and texture, while philosophical musings from the graveyard’s point of view provide context and a sense of history. The book frequently sags under the weight of self-indulgent digressions on topics ranging from soil to intestinal distress, but at its best, this bleak and gruesome tale artfully illustrates the transformative properties of grief and the ability of secrets to bind and tear asunder.
Less a traditional novel than a series of interconnected character sketches, poet Previti’s first novel is a lyrical contemplation of the circle of life and the immutability of human nature.