The Devil and Ms. Hunt

A very rough approximation of reading Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt: you are standing outside a dirty, white cinderblock building in Jolo, West Virginia. You are smoking a joint. This is not an unfamiliar experience for you. You take a drag and tilt your head back, closing your eyes. Hands shove you inside–through the double front doors. You hear a loud humming, and open your eyes. People in pews. Jumping. Spinning. Hands twisting into the air. You see a preacher near the front. Wood paneling behind him. He’s holding a stick in one hand, a Mason jar of yellowish liquid in the other. As you are pushed nearer, you see the stick twist and writhe. Copperhead. The humming intensifies to a shout: JEEZ-us! You finally expel the smoke from your lungs as you yell, “Christ!”

This book is a religious book in the same sense that Jim Jones was a religious man. The carnival show cum sleazy, traveling tent revival is all over the first half of this book with some Jonestown-style, cult flavor sprinkled throughout. Watching the documentary The Source Family would be a half-decent/half-assed primer for this book.

Ms. Hunt’s metaphors and similes are incredibly odd. It felt like someone shoving a round peg into a square hole, and making it fit somehow. Or like riding a unicycle while looking through binoculars. There’s a feeling of danger and a general sense of the familiar as odd. Her writing style really grabbed me. This is one of those books that someone will either be really into after the first chapter or really turned off by.

I’m not going to go into many details because, as with a drug trip or a secret religious ceremony, you just have to experience it. Ms. Hunt starts the book out with Ruth and her friend Nat, both young orphans. Both of whom begin to commune with the dead as they discover that people will pay them to do so. After a few chapters, Ms. Hunt shifts to the present with Ruth’s niece, Cora, and a grown up Ruth. Ms. Hunt handles the separate threads in the book very well. She never lets the story lag and I never felt rushed or impatient for her to pick up the next thread. Good pacing.

I felt that the ending was a little cheesy. Almost like a gimmick. However, the story was so strange and engaging that it hardly mattered. For me, this book was all about the journey and not necessarily the destination, which is funny because almost all of the characters in the book are in motion, escaping from trouble by running towards some vague thing which they hope will solve their immediate problem. Ever traveling. Ever searching.

Just a really weird and well-written book. I can’t recommend it highly enough…if you’ve got the right kind of brain to handle it. Five out of five stars.

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