Mr. Splitfoot* is Samantha Hunt’s latest novel and it’s a strange, intense journey for fans of Gothic fiction. Nat and Ruth are two teenagers living in the Love of Christ! Foster Home, Farm, and Mission. Exclamation point included. The founder of the home, Father Arthur, only wants the most extreme cases of child abandonment. He doesn’t want families that may reunite or have a long lost aunt step in, he wants the lost causes.
While this material is certainly dark, it’s mixed with enough humor and absurdity to keep the novel from becoming too grim. The Mother of Love of Christ! sings Black Sabbath’s “Mama, Mama, I’m Coming Home” to the motherless children as they do the heavy lifting and Ruth ponders the attractiveness of Jesus.
Ruth takes a long peek down her nose. “Yeah. Jesus is a hottie.” Ruth does love Jesus, same way she loves Lincoln, Robin Hood, Martin Luther King, and Nat. Handsome men who fight for justice.
Nat and Ruth, siblings by choice, know they need to find a way to earn a living before they age out of the home and that comes in the form of Mr. Splitfoot. He helps Nat speak to the dead. It begins with the other orphans, but soon draws the attention of the mysterious Mr. Bell, who brings Nat and Ruth a much more profitable clientele.
Interspersed with Nat and Ruth’s life as spiritualists is Cora’s story. Cora is Ruth’s pregnant niece. One day Ruth arrives unannounced, unable to speak, but insistent that Cora accompany her – destination unknown. Although the novel sounds – and is – very odd, it is also genuinely well-crafted. Samantha Hunt has written an intricately plotted, ghostly love story that I would highly recommend. It is a novel that I am certain will stick with me through the entirety of the coming year.
The beats and static, the clicks and clacks of a woman thinking hard about falling in love across space and time, across death. The way a mother whispers to her child. The way an old man sings, a record of lives lived.
I hope your reading year has started off as well as mine has. What was (is?) your first book of the year?
*I received a review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.