[ release date: January 5, 2016 via Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]
Samantha Hunt’s latest novel, Mr. Splitfoot, is an enchanting modern gothic ghost story.
The most memorable aspect of the novel Hunt’s ability to bring to life this story that primarily deals with the dead. Her prose makes the characters feel alive, and, even though there is a lot of haunting supernaturalism at play, the characters feel real.
There are two stories at play. I interviewed Hunt and she had some interesting ideas about how to present the two plots (link coming soon via The Millions), but in the end it wound up being a traditional alternating timeline between chapters.
Both deal with the same location, although it’s not entirely clear from the get go.
The first story is about Ruth and Nat. We first meet Ruth when she is a five year old girl in a cultish foster home. Her face is scarred as the result of her birth mother throwing bleach into her face. There she meets a boy named Nat, where she immediately is drawn to him because she no longer has her big sister who has aged out of the foster system.
Their relationship is developed well and explored in a thoughtful way. They bind together and eventually become con artists who can talk to the dead. This plot tracks their time as mediums with the help of an enigmatic character.
Meanwhile, the second plot is about Ruth in the future. She’s older and mute. Even though she can’t or refuses to talk, she manages to find her long lost niece Cora. The two go on a pilgrimage of sorts: they walk across upstate New York with no modern technology, and seemingly no plan.
The two converge in a haunting ending that will leave many satisfied, but has the ability to polarize readers.
What struck me most about Mr. Splitfoot was the amount of research that had to go into the planning. Hunt touches on so many historical and modern pieces of our society. In the book there are religious cults, the exploration of mediums, an obsession with meteors, and ghost stories that are all vital to the outcome of Ruth, Nat, and Cora’s life.
Go into this book expecting it to not be like anything you’ve encountered; yet, it has the uncanny ability to feel endearingly cozy and warm. Even if it does deal with some cold topics.