Then there's that fascinating opening grab: your blood
was always whispering, even if you didn't want to listen.
As if it's a choice, huh?
Well, in November Mourns, it isn't. A whiff of
resignation lingers throughout the read, because the lives recorded
inside are on bent and broken tracks, fated to the same songs as
their ancestors, conducted in bitter nods and long sluicings of
homemade, alcoholic poison. The setting is so far into the back
woods below the M-D line, it doesn't much register as America.
And our guide leading this character parade—Shad Jenkins—represents
from the shadow society of the incarcerated, that growing body
that's legally disappeared, then heavily monitored if they return.
Currently, there are about 2.4 million in custody; that's 1 out of
every 130 Americans in cuffs.
Released home to Moon Run Hollow, Shad is intent to suture
up the mysteries bleeding out of his baby sister's “death by misadventure” (Bantam
PBO, IBSN 055358720x, c.2005, p.52).
But forget about Megan. She functions more like the client than the
victim in the puzzle, especially since Shad repeatedly sees her
outstretched hands from “the glowing broken threads of an anguished
aura” (p.89). Her body's been found up Gospel Trail, a dirt road
to the Chatalaha River gorge overlook, infamous as a deadly jumping
point for trapped Bluebellies during the war, hopelessly-alive yellow-fever
and cholera victims from the plague years, and depressed or drunken
local suiciders. There are recluses, moonshiners, general miscreants,
and snake-handling, religious fanatics living up there, but the bottom
hill families stay away because “the ground's sick and full of scorn.
It's hungry but fickle” (p.75). Armed with his second sight, major
hillbilly obstinance tempered with slammer smarts, and a fast, mash-runnin'
Mustang shotgun-seated by a 'coon hound named Lament, Shad picks
his way through the ‘tudes, the misery, and advice of his constipated
father, the imperturbable deputy Dave Fox, an ex-girlfriend who just
wants impregnation, walleyed fire-and-brimstoners, drunk underaged
nymphomaniacs and their gummy trigger-fingered boyfriends, distant
family, distant friends, and enemies. Then there's M'am Luvell, the “dwarf
granny witch woman” (p.140) who's constantly smoking refer and acting
as the Hollow's medicine woman and spiritual monitor. She tells him
about the wraiths that “come up out of the gorge . . . like a whirlwind
and took my mama” (p.138). He's advised to trust in the voices heard “when
you go night walkin'” (p.139).
By novel's end, the bulwarks of sanity and rational behavior
as adjudicated by America's mainstream society are destitute against
the schismatic and savage adjustment by “a place designed to make
you disappear” (p.154). Author Piccirilli has remained painfully
sober in dealing with an often-mawked sub-culture typically tagged
with redneck-stupid NASCAR jokes, referrals to a Dodge Charger named General
Lee, Deliverance-like soo-wee
calls and banjo strummings. The belittling clichés hide the
angry truth and horrendous dysfunction of a unique and vital community
gone irreparably sour, as well as the damage done by its own members
due to ignorance, addiction, poverty, and a debilitating gene pool.
The mystery remains a mystery of interpretation, as appropriate for
the conditions and answers haunting this novel, and typifys the
mental allowances—whether delusional or truly supernatural—of
a group so invested in its own rather corrugated and captious status
If what Shad Jenkins says is true—that “we're fated to quarrel
with our flaws” (p.254)—then November Mourns at least asks
for a key to the dialogue box. By keeping him the hero and close but
not quite the detached outsider of his tribe, author Piccirilli leaves
us a faint guttering of hope.