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Mr. Splitfoot


Mr. Splitfoot

Ghost stories, we are told early on in Samantha Hunt’s latest novel, are predictable and untrue because there are no ghosts…only the dead. But Hunt goes on, throughout MR. SPLITFOOT, to play with those ideas, manipulating her characters --- and her readers --- in the best possible ways.

Ruth Sykes grows up in the Love of Christ! foster home run by an abusive religious fanatic called The Father, who takes in the kids no one else wants. When Ruth’s older sister, Eleanor, ages out of foster care at age 18, Ruth pairs up with another five-year-old, a boy named Nat, who becomes her best friend, protector and “sister.” As teenagers, the two begin charging the other wards in the home to speak to the dead through Nat. Their charade attracts the attention of a young, enigmatic con man named Mr. Bell, who begins to find them jobs “channeling” for wealthy and distraught clients. But Ruth also attracts the attention of a frightening figure named Zeke, who wants to buy her from The Father and make her his bride. Instead she marries Mr. Bell and leaves Love is Christ! with Nat, and they continue their theatrics and swindles. Their new life and sense of contentment don’t last long: Zeke finds them, and they must flee from his violence and delusions.

"...a phenomenal, inventive and irresistible read that takes readers from the swirling cosmos to the quiet potentiality of the womb, from the hopeful supernatural to the devastatingly realistic."

Fourteen years later, Ruth’s niece, Cora, finds herself pregnant by a married man and unfulfilled in her life in general. When Ruth comes to her and beckons her to follow, Cora sets out on a trek across New York with her aunt without knowing where they are going or why. Ruth is silent and determined, and Cora trails her for months, even as her pregnancy reaches the nine-month mark. The two travel mostly on foot as Cora’s destiny awaits, and Ruth’s life with Nat and Mr. Bell is recounted.

Even without the physical journey they share, the stories of Ruth and Cora intertwine and reflect each other in an intriguing and poignant manner. But several of the important themes and figures in the book, apart from Ruth and Cora, are doubled or repeated. There are mothers good and bad; two cults and two deranged cult leaders; many orphans and scammers; and those who seek out ghosts, those who see them and those who deny they exist at all. There are towns, motels and houses that characters leave and return to, and roads that they travel in different times and for different reasons. The convergence of Ruth and Cora is strange, poignant, fantastical and wonderful to read, as are the relationships between Ruth and Nat, and then Ruth and Mr. Bell. Hunt’s prose is effortless, dark, darkly funny and so very smart.

There is much to ponder and mull over in this novel, and the meaning may sometimes seem buried in the storytelling itself. However, readers would do well to trust Hunt to create a cohesive whole by the end as she slowly but successfully reveals the essence of the story and delivers a stunning conclusion.

Referencing the infamous career of the Fox Sisters and the religious fervor of 19th-century New York's "burnt-over district," MR. SPLITFOOT is atmospheric and romantic, yet thoroughly postmodern in its sensibilities. It’s a ghost story that insists ghosts aren’t real. But whether there are ghosts in these pages or just memories, regrets, desires and dreams, the result is a phenomenal, inventive and irresistible read that takes readers from the swirling cosmos to the quiet potentiality of the womb, from the hopeful supernatural to the devastatingly realistic.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 8, 2016

Mr. Splitfoot
by Samantha Hunt

  • Publication Date: January 5, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Gothic, Horror
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 0544526708
  • ISBN-13: 9780544526709