Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt
After reading this review by Andi of Estella's Revenge, I decided that I should start the year off by stepping out of my reading comfort zone (something I did more of last year and it was a great experience) and grabbing up a read that felt like it might hold a surprise. As I finished this one, a comment by one of the main characters grabbed me by the throat and I held my breath:
I knew there was going to be something big at the end.
I couldn't have said it better myself! While the author, Samantha Hunt, describes this tale as "a ghost story," I wouldn't use that phrase myself; readers come to understand what she means, by the end of the novel. I also wouldn't describe it as haunting, or gothic, or some of the other terms I've read used in some notable reviews; I would describe it as affecting, since that is certainly closer to what I experienced.
For me, Mr. Splitfoot serves as a metaphor for the manner in which these characters slip and slither and twist between each other over the course of 15 years, living as children of the state in the dreadful-sounding Love of Christ! (yes, the exclamation mark is intentional) Foster Home, Farm and Mission. Run by "Father Arthur," who speaks in scripture and only provides decent meals at the beginning of the month when his state check arrives, two of these characters, Ruth and Nat, bond together after Ruth's older sister "ages out" and must leave the home.
Ruth trusts Nat's assessment of their caretaker best: 'Part hippie, part psychopath."
Throughout the novel, readers encounter Ruth and Nat and two different stages in their life. While often a tricky style to navigate, I had no trouble keeping track of who was where and when, etc.; Hunt seems to have a knack for keeping the two storylines simultaneously close and far away from one another to avoid confusion. In addition, I was very attracted to her writing; there is wit and comedy thrown in at just the right moments so that I was endeared to these characters from the beginning.
We come to a town where the men wear camo. Two teenage boys have tattoos on their necks, instantly halving the alienation they'd hoped to achieve. A sign outside a church speaks to God. Lord, it asks, grant us g___, but the last letters are gone. I fill in: groceries, gumballs, gorillas, good, clean fun.
As I mentioned in the beginning, something big does happen at the end and it was nothing like I'd expected. Whether you are a fan of "ghost" stories or tales of magical realism matters not; these are not key elements in the novel, at least not in any traditional sense. Bottom line, this is a novel full of bent and broken characters who are trying to find their way in spite of their questionable beginnings; their path to self-worth and redemptive love is filled with the metaphorical dark and murky discoveries that are described so vividly within this tale.