If ever there was a book to read during Halloween,/Samhain/All Souls' Day, The Dead Shall Rise
—a debut novel by Melanie K. Hutsell
—is it. And that's when I read it. The book is seriously creepy. But it's a lot more than that.
It's also wonderfully lovely and lyrical—and so beautifully written that I'll likely re-read it in a few years. Think Appalachian literary fiction meets magical realism. Here's the first two-thirds of the opening paragraph:
She came from the lowlands, her long, black hair wild and tangled. She came alone and she walked with sorrow in her long bones. The people of Beulah Creek had never seen anyone like her. They did not want to see her. They knew it that first morning when she walked into their midst. She seemed to clutch the dark about her like the long folds of her skirt, the fringes of her shawl.
And thus we are introduced to the main character, Malathy Jane—a mysterious and unwelcome stranger who, in the fall of 2000, buys the old Greenberry house where Jess Greenberry hanged herself years earlier. And where Jess's ghost still resides. Malathy Jane stays with widower Clement Foster and his teenage daughter Emmy for a time while Noah Carpenter fixes up the long-abandoned house. Then she moves in, and continues to be the subject of gossip by the folks who live in the mountain town of Beulah Creek. But Emmy adores her, and Noah is attracted to her.
One of the Beulah Creek denizens is elderly Granny Barnes, who as a child witnessed one man kill another in the woods and never told anyone. Has the dead man returned after all these years? And why, in the dead of winter, does Malathy Jane's garden grow and prosper while the townspeople fall on hard times? And why does Malathy Jane change so much? Many questions hang in the air.
The dialogue in The Dead Shall Rise is sparse and sometimes ambiguous, but it works. Sense of place is strong in this novel—the mountain, the Greenberry house, the town, nature, and the creek contribute to it. All function more like characters themselves than just setting.
The Dead Shall Rise gives the reader much to think about and ponder. The tale, while appearing simple, is a tangled web where evil lurks. Hutsell's words will haunt you for a while after you've read them.
I look forward to reading future works from this debut author.
Labels: Appalachian Lit, book review