Book Review: Whisper Hollow

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Not since A Good American, and maybe even No Country  (although I would say that one was a completely different kind of saga/read) have I been so captivated by a multigenerational saga like the one found in Whisper Hollow.

A grateful and kindly thank you to Other Press for sending this our way. I was immediately drawn into this story. Immediately. I would have to tear myself away (kicking and screaming) from it at the end of every lunch hour and reluctantly, oh so reluctantly turn my attention back to work. Sad right?  It was the saddest thing ever to have to pull my attention away from my time between the pages of Whisper Hollow. There my friends, is a ringing endorsement and a definite hallmark indicating this was a great read!

After only a few pages, I looked up other novels written by Chris Cander, and while some have claimed Whisper Hollow to be her debut, it is not. 11 Stories is/was, and I’ve already and immediately added that to my TBR. Whisper Hollow marks another impressive roll I seem to have been riding in terms of great reads lately! Thankfully I was reading this one well before I finished the two biggest duds I’ve read all year (those two know who I’m talking about). After recovering from my book hangover from The Bird Sisters, I didn’t think there would be one that could enchant me as much as Rasmussen’s story had. So wrong! Whisper Hollow quickly swooped in and swept me away.

I’ve read one review, I believe it was for Shelf Awareness, where the reviewer noted this was a story “all about Alta”. Yes, there is much about Alta here, but Whisper Hollow wouldn’t be all that it is without the wildly captivating Myrthen Bergmann. The story opens with Myrthen’s story after all, and it is her story that will shape so much of Alta’s life and the lives of many others in Verra, West Virginia.

At the start of Whisper Hollow, Myrthen is playing a (mean-spirited, jealousy-induced) game of tug-o-war over a doll with her sister, Ruth. Myrthen abruptly lets go of her hold on the doll and Ruth takes a tragic tumble down the cellar stairs. Immediately following Ruth’s death, Myrthen decides to devote her life to God. Her life long goal will be to become a nun, a way of becoming a sister again. That path is a rocky one for her however. But one that makes for some fantastic reading!

Myrthen ….my word lady! I was both so interested/fascinated by you, but at the same time I didn’t know if I should completely despise you? What an odd bird you are but what a great character to read about! As the Mother Superior from the convent (that denied you) thought, “There was something rather unsettling about her.” (p. 134) Her religious fervor is like nothing you’ve ever seen before! Part of the description for Whisper Hollow  well describes Myrthen’s personality: “Myrthen excludes herself from all forms of friendship and affection and begins a twisted, haunted life dedicated to God.”

Myrthen and Alta’s lives will become entwined, especially after Myrthen’s impetuous fall from grace. She is then forced to marry the man Alta secretly loves. Here is where the story will take you through the married lives of Myrthen (so bizarre!) and Alta. Alta ends up marrying a kind, decent and patient man, but he is not the one she truly loves. Whisper Hollow will also propel you towards a horrific mining accident in Verra, one which will devastate so many, and steals Alta’s husband, her only son and her great love from her, and holds a town secret that will be locked away for many years to come.

Fourteen years later, the story switches over to the life of Lidia and her son, Gabriel. There is something quite different about Gabriel, a very young boy with an odd gift of knowing very old and unknown secrets about the town and its folk. The townsfolk quickly form a bit of mob mentality about Gabriel, insisting he harbours evil spirits.  Lidia finds some peace and respite by spending time with Alta, who is now living alone far up the mountain. And for Myrthen? Well, this little boy presents himself with more ways of increasing her twisted religious zealousness and the story will come to a great climax where her crazed quest for salvation frighteningly involves Gabriel.

Whisper Hollow was a grand and well spun yarn that I just adored reading. Another great read leaving this Hoarder with yet another book hangover! Now that is one hangover I absolutely do not mind having! I’m anxious to get to Cander’s 11 Stories now, and hope she keeps cranking out fantastic stories like Whisper Hollow! Woo Hoo!

Literary Hoarders Penny rev