Ruth and Nat are two teenagers stuck in a religious group home in upstate New York. Unsure what they’ll do when they turn 18 and ‘age out’ of the Love of Christ! facility, Ruth is ready to consider desperate measures to find some kind of future for herself and her best friend. An option turns up when the two meet a traveling con man, Mr. Bell, who suggests that they start profiting off Nat’s reputed ability to speak to the dead – one he’s so far only used to scare and entertain the fellow foster kids at the home. Mr. Bell also comes from an unusual religious background, we learn – his father was the leader of an apocalyptic cult. Is this commonality of experience the reason he’s drawn to Ruth and Nat, or is there a different agenda behind his seeking them out?
Intercut with Ruth & Nat’s story is one that unfolds some 20 years later. Cora is a seemingly ordinary young woman with a normal job and life. She knows that her mother didn’t have a good childhood, but those foster homes and abuse seem very far in the past. But when her boyfriend reacts very, very badly to the news that Cora is pregnant, and emotional crisis point is reached. Just at that moment, Cora’s enigmatic but long-idolized Aunt Ruth appears. Refusing or unable to speak, Ruth leads Cora on a long walk through New York State, with no known destination.
I picked up this book because of the comparison to Kelly Link, but I didn’t quite feel the similarity there. Rather, I felt that this book was very much written in the style of a great deal of contemporary post-apocalyptic lit-fic. It’s not apocalyptic (although there is that apocalyptic cult), but the way it is written makes modern life feel apocalyptic. The fact that all the characters are alienated from modern society (either emotionally or through forced isolation) contributes significantly to this, as does the narrative’s occasional tips into the realm of the bizarre. The themes of the book are also ones that are present in much of the post-apoc genre.
I liked the book, and moreover, appreciated that it was very well-crafted. I didn’t emotionally love it, however… perhaps just because of the high unpleasantness quotient.
Many thanks to HMH and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is solely my own.