Mr. Splitfoot by: Samantha Hunt
Review by: Mark Palm
I was a teenager when I first “discovered” South American Magic Realism. Now Magic Realism has been with us for a long, long time, from Laurence Sterne to Franz Kafka, but the South Americans were trending, and I read Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Julio Cortazar, etc, but The Green House by Mario Vargas Llosa was the one that warped my mind the most. It was so trippy that I had to resort to a notebook to keep it all straight, and even then most of the time I was reading it I felt like I had a serious fever.
All of which brings me to Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt, which is probably the most hallucinatory book I have read since then. It’s a shame that I read this as an arc, because I can’t quote from it, and Ms. Hunt is a superb line-by-line writer, and her prose absolutely sings. Like The Green House however, I can’t quite grasp exactly what happened.
Ruth grows up in the Love of Christ! foster home run by an abusive religious fanatic who mistreats his charges. After her older sister Eleanor ages out of foster care Ruth teams up with a boy named Nat, who can channel the dead. As teens the two meet Mr. Bell, who is a con artist. Ruth marries him, but they are stalked by Zeke, a dangerous psycho who wants Ruth for himself.
This narrative is entwined with one fourteen years later, with Ruth’s niece, Cora, who is pregnant and unmarried and generally bored with her life. Ruth shows up, and silently convinces Cora to follow her. The two spend the next several months walking around New York state, even as Cora’s pregnancy makes it harder and more dangerous for her. Of course Cora has a Destiny, but by the time it came around I was pretty perplexed. There are cults and religious fanatics and raving lunatics, and I was just waiting for someone that felt like they were from this planet.
Now as I said, Ms. Hunt is a wonderful writer of prose, but the biggest problem I had with this book was the characters. Almost everyone felt like they had dropped in from another plane of existence, and while there is nothing wrong with weirdness, I felt that the weirdness was sometimes forced. It didn’t help that almost no one was sympathetic either. I feel that this was purposeful, and I don’t believe that characters need to be likeable; but the level of inexplicably was a bit to high for me.
The dream-like quality of the storylines was effective, and there was a palpable sense of ghostly menace that provided a great deal of suspense, and there was never a page that was boring or dull, but I felt that a few moments of normalcy may have better served to illustrate the strange and sometimes miraculous elements of this book. One thing is for sure; Ms Hunt doesn't play it safe. While she didn’t quite nail it Mr. Splitfoot is certainly a powerful book, by a writer who seems to be just bursting with talent.