Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt
Last week I reviewed the latest Indiespensables box from Powell’s Books that came with a copy of Mr. Splitfoot. This book has been on my radar for a while and I coincidentally had been approved for a galley of the book prior to receiving my book box. The novel is getting an incredible amount of buzz in the book world. Here’s my review.
Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt
Published in: 2016
Rating: 3.5 stars, rounded to 4
Reviewed by: Jen
Find it/buy it here: Mr. Splitfoot
Mr Splitfoot is Samantha Hunt’s third novel. It has been aptly described by many reviewers as a contemporary gothic novel. The novel is structurally complicated since it is comprised of two story lines that take place many years apart from each other but are ultimately connected in clever ways.
Ruth and Nat are two orphans living at the Love of Christ! Foster Home, Farm and Mission under the supervision of founder, Father Arthur. The Love of Christ! Foster home is anything but loving or Christian. Father Arthur searches out the most severely disturbed and unwanted cases only to use them for their benefit checks while at the same time preaching his own warped brand of religious doctrine. Nat and Ruth each come to the orphanage from different circumstances while both yearning for their mothers. They quickly develop a strong bond and become family to each other. In an attempt to escape from the home, Nat and Ruth develop an ability to talk to the dead through a mysterious entity, Mr. Splitfoot (a reference to the real life story of the Fox sisters, 19th-century mediums who claimed to talk to a spirit/devil known as Mr. Splitfoot, Jan 09, Boston Globe). As a result of this ability they meet a variety of unusual and not quite savory characters and they make an interesting journey. Is their ability a con or can they really talk to the dead?
Many years later, an adult Ruth shows up at the home of her niece, Cora. Cora has been in an abusive relationship with a married man and finds herself pregnant with his child. She remembers Ruth from her early childhood when Ruth visited with Nat (note the interesting journey mentioned in the prior paragraph). Cora remembers Ruth as a free and joyful young woman who was charismatic and alluring. Yet, present day Ruth is mute, unable to speak for reasons only made clear at the end of the book. Ruth has come for Cora to take her on a mysterious journey. The two women then leave home to walk all across New York State in search of something whose meaning is only revealed at the end.
The stories of Ruth and Nat’s journey and Ruth and Cora’s journey are told in alternating chapters throughout the course of the book. The reader is given clues sprinkled throughout both story lines to help clarify both what happened to Ruth and the why it is necessary to make the journey.
The book is jam-packed with a lot of dark material including religious cults, abuse and violence, and shady characters. The language and prose is at time vulgar (don’t read this book if you are easily offended), at times humorous, and at times beautifully descriptive and poetic. Both story lines effectively create a sense of unease in the reader. It’s not a horror novel by any means but it had elements that made me hesitant to read it alone in a dark room.
Overall, I found the book very engaging and I enjoyed it. I read it in 2 days because it drew me in and kept me hooked. I would have given it 4 stars if not for the fact that I guessed where it was going about 75% in and I felt mildly annoyed about that particular direction – probably because it reminded me of a certain movie. However, despite feeling let down, my immediate thought was that I needed to go back and re-read the book to pick up on all the hints and secrets.
What I did love about the book was the variety of ways in which familial love was brought up. Nat and Ruth loved each other like family (referring to each other as sisters even though Nat was male). Hunt could have very easily gone down the sappy romantic route but didn’t. In addition, there was a lot of emphasis on motherhood and the meaning of the mother-child bond. Several characters in the book didn’t have mothers in their lives. Cora was pregnant and her identity as a mother became more relevant as the book progressed – she provided a sense of hope for breaking the cycle.
This book is often referenced under fantasy (it is shelved as a fantasy novel in Goodreads) but that isn’t accurate. There are supernatural elements (talking to the dead, various mystical things occurring) but the majority of the book very realistic. Those who hate fantasy may in fact really like this book.
Want to try the book for yourself? You can find it here: Mr. Splitfoot
Have you read the book already? What did you think? Have you read others by Samantha Hunt.