Book Quote:

“… What happened? He thinks, and marvels that he can recall human speech. With great effort, Tucker draws himself onto his hands and knees and crawls down the breezeway to her shut bedroom door. He puts his eye against her keyhole.

There, Cora Alley, freshly dismounted, is wriggling back into the soft folds of empty arms and legs; she, too, returning to her human skin.”

Book Review:

Review by Bill Brody  (MAR 3, 2011)

Witches on the Road Tonight by Sheri Holman is a tale of intergenerational witches that takes place in four different time frames between the 1930’s and the present. The plot moves back and forth between generations and characters. This requires a bit of concentration, but is well worth the effort. It has something of the fears that rise from ghost stories told around a campfire.

The novel begins with Eddie lying down prepared to die. He is in the casket he inherited from his mother, Cora Alley. Eddie has cancer and has taken an overdose of pills. He has left a message for his daughter, Wallis, to call him. For twenty years Eddie was Captain Casket, campy horror show host, and this is the casket from which he would rise during his TV show.

When Eddie was young, a couple came through his home community of Panther Gap in Appalachia to document rural life for the WPA. The two are Tucker, a writer and Sophie, a photographer. Tucker injures Eddie when Eddie runs without warning in front of the car. Tucker and Sophie take the injured Eddie home to recover, but no one is there when they arrive. While waiting for Eddie’s mother, Cora, to come home Tucker shows Eddie an antique horror movie. Just then Cora comes home from a day collecting ginseng roots. Cora’s impact on Tucker is profound.

Cora is a mountain witch, someone who crawls out of her skin at night and then rides men like they were horses. She rides them to exhaustion. If she fancies a man, she will ride him over and over until he is not much good to anyone else; not his wife; not his employer. Cora rides Tucker on successive nights. He is sexually stimulated, humiliated and completely exhausted. He asks Eddie how to avoid being kept in a witch’s power. Eddie tells Tucker never to loan anything to a witch or you are hers forever, but Tucker loans the movie to Cora. The next thing we see is Tucker running through the woods shedding clothing as some creature, we presume the panther of Panther Gap, devours him.

Wallis is Eddie’s daughter, the granddaughter of Cora and is also a witch. Like Cora, she harnesses a powerful sexual appetite. Near the end of Eddie’s career as Captain Casket and when Wallis was on the verge of adolescence, Eddie and his wife take in Jasper, a homeless young man. Jasper has been hanging around the TV station where Eddie works, and Eddie has become fond of the young man. Jasper’s intrusion into the family is a burden to twelve-year-old Wallis. She is constantly provoked by Jasper for whom she develops a powerful sexual attraction. The day after Eddie’s twenty-year reign as a horror show host is over, Eddie, Jasper and Wallis leave town and travel to Panther Gap to Cora’s home in the mountains. While they are there the ghost-story atmosphere intensifies. Jasper, Wallis and Eddie find the remnants of Tucker’s clothing confirming the tale Eddie told Jasper of Cora’s role in Tucker’s disappearance.

Wallis is currently an anchorwoman. The dying Eddie left her a phone message while she was on the air. You get the sense that Wallis is annoyed with Eddie. In the afterglow of her show she has not checked her messages, going instead, as she does regularly, to have a sexual fling with Jeff, one of the crew. Jeff’s come-on to Wallis is the revelation that the Jeff was a card-carrying fan of Captain Casket. Wallis has her fling and then tries to get a ride home, but it is late and the car doesn’t come. Dogs howl in the night and she is afraid. She remembers what happened at Panther Gap and what happened to Jasper in the aftermath. Then she listens to Eddie’s phone massage, a slurred reference to going on a ginseng hunt, their code for an adventure. Jasper, too, went on a ginseng hunt; so did Tucker. Wallis screams and Jeff takes her back into his apartment to comfort her. She feels compelled to tell the ghost story about the visit to Panther Gap by Wallis, Eddie and Jasper.

Being witches, Wallis and Cora bend men to their wills often to tragic ends. Witchcraft can be seen in light of the war between the sexes. A witch is the embodiment of women’s powers and their sexuality. For men, a witch is to be feared and desired. For women such as Wallis, a witch is what you become when the power of your magical thinking comes to pass. In some ways Witches on the Road Tonight reinforces a masculine objectification of powerful women as witches. The female protagonists are all powerful women; they all manipulate their men.

I really enjoyed the book and recommend it highly. It is an extremely well-written and pleasantly complex adult ghost story.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 6 readers
PUBLISHER: Atlantic Monthly Press (March 1, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bill Brody
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More mountain magic:

Bloodroot by Amy Green


For Kids:

March 3, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Horror, Reading Guide, Speculative (Beyond Reality), US South

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