Monday, May 23, 2016

Mr. Splitfoot: A Weird Entrancing Tale by Samantha Hunt

To say Mr. Splitfoot is odd would be an understatement. The story is macabre and fantastical, filled with unexplainable supernatural events and a twist that leaves the reader a little bit frighted about what has happened but also unsure about what has actually occurred.

Samantha Hunt's hit novel tells the story of Ruth and Cora, two women separated by decades but whose destinies are mysteriously intertwined.

Ruth is an orphan living in the home of a religious fanatic, bearing a facial scar from her mother pouring acid onto her face.  She survives the stifling existence with the help of her soulmate Nat, who has served as Ruth's surrogate sister since her biological one had to leave the home. Nat and Ruth engage in normal youthful hi-jinx but quickly become skilled con artists, hosting séances claiming to communicate with the dead for those unsettled by the loss of loved ones and eager for closure.

Jumping forward, we meet Ruth's niece, Cora, who lives a mediocre and dull life but finds herself pregnant and eager to keep the baby, despite the horrible attempts of the father to end the pregnancy. Suddenly, a mute Ruth appears and asks Cora to follow her on a journey through upstate New York, a journey whose purpose and end goal Cora can only speculate about. Cora's narration delves into the meaning of her pregnancy, the reasons for Ruth's appearance, and doubts and fears about where they are going and what this will mean to her and her child.

Back in the past, Ruth attracts the attention a local man who successfully negotiates with the religious fanatic a marriage between him and Ruth. Trying to avoid this unappetizing future, Ruth and Nat befriend another local conman, Mr. Bell, who helps them earn significant amounts of money via their séances and who agrees to marry Ruth so as to avoid ending up with the other prospective suitor.

Quickly the story turns as the local man returns to expose the con but also to capture Ruth, forcing Nat, Ruth and Mr. Bell to escape and requiring Mr. Bell to reveal a dark past that reveals a connection to Ruth she could not have imagine. Meanwhile, Cora comes upon an old cabin and a much older Nat and the mystery that Cora has been trying to figure out begins to reveal itself.

Adore would not be a word I could use to describe my feelings about Mr. Splitfoot. The story felt uncomfortable to read. Hunt writes in an old classical and gothic style much less common in modern literature. The underlying darkness of the story meanders through the text, through the oddness of the dialogue and the strangeness of the plot. That said, I found myself intrigued, eager to find the connecting threads that would be exposed at the end.

Additionally to the stylistic thrust of the novel, Hunt also delves into a wide variety of relevant themes, touching on issues of religion and the occult, motherhood and abandonment, friendship and love. That so many weighty issues get dealt with through
the dark tinge of the writing may leave a reader weary but it definitely presents a unique take.

So if you want a break from the clever and light wit that has become the style de jour of many books, and want to explore a novel that relies on more classical techniques to tell a weird but engaging story, do pick up Mr. Splitfoot and get lost in its trance.


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