And here we are with another book read.
Confession: although I never got to meet Tom in person, I got to know him through email when we were trying to invite him to Colorado Springs for a conference or workshop. Then I discovered he had written a mystery novel (not his usual fare) set in a small town in upstate NY, which led to me writing to ask him, “What the heck?” Turns out there had been some sort of family cabin on a lake there when he was growing up, and the memories never left him. He was a wonderful writer and a fine human being, and he was taken from us much too soon earlier this year.
Now then. A Choir of Ill Children. A Southern Gothic novel, which I fully expected to trudge through while women fainted and ghosts fluttered and nothing solid ever really happened.
I’m pleased to say i was so, so wrong. I loved this book. The language is lyrical with a mysterious beat that hooks you and draws you in. The characters are drawn in bold, strong, colorful strokes, and the creepy atmosphere of Kingdom Come, the backwater swamp town where the story is set, will creep into your bones so hard you’ll be itching from imaginary mosquito bites and sweating in the literary humidity.
I sometimes complain because not enough questions are answered in horror novels. In this book, while every single question isn’t answered, there is a sense of completeness, of story finished when you reach the end. Some might call the ending too pat, or too much of a turnaround, but I don’t think so.
I will also never see the word “vinegar” the same ever again. But this book is full of that, little twists and sidesteps that you don’t see coming.
For instance, the main character owns the town sawmill. There are a million ways Piccirilli could have played that character in that situation, but he made it unique. Not the literary hero drowning in white man’s guilt, and not the bored and/or cruel overseer that we’ve seen a million times.
The main character is aware of his town, his family, and his place in both. That sounds frustratingly vague. I don’t want to give up too much about the plot. You’ve got granny witches, conjoined triplets, ghosts, missing parents, a best friend who is truly afflicted by speaking in tongues, a documentary crew of two, and a mysterious girl found in the woods. It all ties up in ways you won’t expect, that you couldn’t expect.
I kept telling myself, as I read the book, “I should hate this. It’s too lyrical. It’s not straightforward enough.” At the same time, I was falling in love with the words and couldn’t put it down.