Chris Cander’s “Whisper Hollow” is the kind of story that gets passed through generations and retold by older family members near the end of their lives as they unburden themselves from the past.
A multi-generational yarn that intertwines the lives of three women and their families from the early 1900s to the late 1960s, “Whisper Hollow” is, on the one hand, a cautionary tale about what happens when we keep our true selves hidden, and homage to the pioneer spirit needed to carve out an intentionally-lived life.
Set in the coal-mining town of Verra, West Virginia, Cander’s novel begins with the story of Alta Krol and Myrthen Bergmann, two young girls who grow up fast, in part because of the times, but also because of tragedy that befalls them. Nature serves as the backdrop, flowing constant like a gentle creek.
Alta’s mother has died and being the only female in a male dominated home, Alta slips into the caretaker role as a young girl which forever binds her to her duties despite desires to venture beyond the town. Myrthen loses her twin sister in a tragic accident at a young age, an event from which she never recovers, and becomes the touchstone for religious obsession.
For years, Alta and Myrthen and the men in their lives seek to satisfy their humanity until a mysterious coal-mining accident connects them through the death of their loved ones and the purgatory aftermath of surviving. Life becomes a slow and painful burn for Alta and Mythen in very different ways until the catalyst for change comes in the form of a child born to Lidia Pollock, a young woman raised in Verra with deep wounds of her own.
Lidia’s son, Gabriel, it turns out is no ordinary toddler. He has what the town’s people believe are supernatural abilities. What he knows about the past, present, and future will drive some to the brink of insanity and others towards redemption.
Although fiction, “Whisper Hollow” has a true-story feel as Cander paints the somewhat dreary picture of a town and its inhabitants and their physical and mental sacrifices as they service the coalmine. And, without indictment, she also shows the disparate roles of men and women and their labors to survive.
“Whisper Hollow” will both haunt and inspire with nature serving as its handmaiden.
Maria Giordano is above all a mom. In her spare time, she reads, writes, and tries to stay current. When she gets there, she’ll let you know.
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