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  • TITLE: November Mourns
  • AUTHOR: Tom Piccirilli
  • AWARDS: Shortlisted Stoker Award
  • WEBSITE: www.thecoldspotblog


    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 of citizens 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 quo.

    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.



    © copyright 02/21/2009 by Larry Crawford

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