Monthly Archives: October 2016

Review: Whisper Hollow by Chris Cander

WHISPER HOLLOW

 

by

 

Chris Cander
Genre: Literary Fiction / Friendship
Publisher: Other Press
Date of Publication: March 17, 2016
Number of Pages: 400

 

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Set in a small coal-mining town, Whisper Hollow is full of secrets, love, and betrayal, where Catholicism casts a long shadow and three courageous women make choices that will challenge our own moral convictions.
            One morning in Verra, a town nestled into the hillsides of West Virginia, the young Myrthen Bergmann is playing tug-of-war with her twin, when her sister is killed. Unable to accept her own guilt, Myrthen excludes herself from all forms of friendship and affection and begins a twisted, haunted life dedicated to God. Meanwhile, her neighbor Alta Krol longs to be an artist even as her days are taken up caring for her widowed father and siblings. Everything changes when Myrthen marries the man Alta loves. Fourteen years later, we meet Lidia, a teenage girl in the same town, and her precocious son, Gabriel. When Gabriel starts telling eerily prescient stories that hint at Verra’s long-buried secrets, it’s not long before the townspeople begin to suspect that the boy harbors evil spirits—an irresistible state of affairs for Myrthen and her obsession with salvation. Rendered in exquisite prose, Whisper Hollow is an extended reflection on guilt, redemption and the affirmation of life in this early 20th century Appalachian community.
PRAISE FOR WHISPER HOLLOW . . .

 

~Kirkus Reviews (STARRED REVIEW)
“Cander divinely delves into multiple points of view, crafting a collage of vibrant, layered characters while charting six decades of poignant, precise moments. A distinctive novel that sublimely measures the distressed though determined heartbeat of a small mountain community.”
~Shelf Awareness (STARRED REVIEW)
“Cander weaves together the stories of these varied characters across nearly five decades with skill and grace, and in her hands, Whisper Hollow grows into much more than the sum of its many parts. The result is a memorable novel about the bonds of town and family, the strength of friendships in unlikely places and the power of secrets to shape a life–or many lives–often without anyone even recognizing it.”
~Booklist
“Cander superbly envisions the town, its residents’ dynamics, and the early twentieth-century immigrant experience…[and] rewards the reader with…well-developed, believable characters whose mental fortitude and capacity to love linger in the reader’s mind long after the last page.”
~Publishers Weekly
“[Whisper Hollow] is inextricably rooted in West Virginia coal country—the rough locale that determines and intertwines [Cander’s] characters’ fates…Cander closely tracks how Myrthen’s and Alta’s romantic decisions unknowingly complicate each other’s lives in the lead-up to a tragic incident that bisects the novel…[and] admirably captures the lack of choice that men and women have in rural West Virginia.”
~Library Journal
“Spare, elegant writing by the author of 11 Stories evokes a bleak atmosphere and creates a smooth, compelling narrative… much of the prose is so outstanding, this writer is clearly gifted.  Give this literary, plot-driven novel to those who enjoy the West Virginia setting and who like a gentle handling of their tragedies.”

 

 

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Just the title, “Whisper Hollow” has an eeriness to it that lets you brace yourself for tragedy. The opening scene of two immigrants seeking a new life in America seems to ride against that feeling, but it comes back in full force when Cander tells you that there is something up with one of the 5-year-old twins conceived by those immigrants. When the twin girls fight over a rag doll, you wince in anticipation of catastrophe. And you know the “bad” twin will come out on top.
The story often jumps forward in time to another character and you’re not sure how it will all tie together. But Cander’s language is so descriptive and lovely that you don’t mind reading on for a while to see how the new storyline ties in with the last.
Alta is described as not being particularly pretty or memorable, but I was drawn to her immediately. Perhaps because I felt overlooked growing up as well. I was excited on her behalf when the object of her affection notices her, but held back a little because I sensed that things weren’t going to tie up nicely between them. In the spirit of not spoiling anything, I will leave it at that.
I’ve never really thought about just how much a single industry can mean everything to a town. The coal mines are the means by which men provide for their families, but it’s also a profession that many try to avoid because it is so perilous. And while mining was steady work for many, even more would meet their demise from black lung or accidents.
Cander doesn’t go into too much detail down in the mines, but the coal dust is almost a secondary character that is painstakingly difficult to escape. Much like guilt, it is difficult to remove from the crevices of one’s hands.
Guilt is the driving force behind so many things in this novel. Guilt of passion leads to a loveless marriage, while the guilt of infidelity keeps a different couple in a loveless marriage as well. There is plenty of guilt all around, some earned and some not. The guilt of harming others while hiding behind God and religion is the one that annoyed me the most. I know that’s not fair, but I have less patience for that sort of thing.
 I really can’t enthuse how much I enjoyed this novel without giving away something important. So let me just say that while I prefer happy endings, I am happy with this ending. I enjoyed every moment of this book. Not a word or sentence were squandered to tell such an outstanding story.

 

Chris Cander is a novelist, children’s book author, screenplay writer, and writer-in-residence for Houston-based Writers in the Schools. Her novel Whisper Hollow was selected as an Indie Next pick and nominated for the 2015 Kirkus Prize in fiction and her award-winning novel 11 Stories was included in Kirkus’s best indie general fiction of 2013. Her children’s book The Word Burglar received the silver 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for Reading Skills & Literacy. Her animated feature film Germs! is currently in pre-production with Cinsesite in partnership with Comic Animations. Chris well knows that the pen is mightier than the sword, but she’s willing to wield one of those, too. A former fitness competitor and model, she currently holds a 3rd dan in taekwondo and is a certified ICSU Women’s Defensive Tactics Instructor. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Author’s Guild, the Writers’ League of Texas, PEN, and MENSA.

  
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September 13September 22, 2016

 

 

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