From Publishers Weekly
Music writer and poet Stephens (The Determined Days) turns out a debut novel that reads like a murder ballad as it evocatively chronicles folk singer Cyrus Harper's return home to Apogee, Mo., an Ozark town ravaged on one side by meth and on the other by Cyrus's brother, Isaac, a real estate developer looking to turn their childhood homestead into a resort. Battling the DTs and the same propensity his sickly mother has for seeing "hog-eyed men" and holding conversations with the dead, Cyrus searches for his sister and childhood singing companion, Saro, whose voice "suited tunes of botched love, misdeeds, and murder." She vanished years ago, but reports of a strange woman roaming the woods stoke hope in Cyrus. Little does he know that the woman is clearing a path of destruction that would make Lizzie Borden blush. Though some readers will find the material stretched too thin, others will appreciate Stephens's determination to comprehend our darkest natures and motivations, a mission accomplished with a rueful swagger. (Jan.) (c)
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Set primarily in the secluded but rapidly commercializing Ozark town of Apogee, Missouri, Stephens’ many-layered, spirited debut recounts the harrowing journeys of two drifters in search of second chances. Dour, luckless folksinger Cyrus Harper returns from California to care for his dying mother, to make amends with his business-minded brother, and to mourn his long-lost sister, with whom he studied and played American roots music in their youth. Former con Margaret Bowman, followed by a mysterious stranger, travels hundreds of miles on foot in search of her daughter, only to resort to her violent tendencies in order to survive. Their pasts return to haunt them, not unlike the pig-faced spirits that presumably roam the town, and as their stories intertwine, Cyrus gets a jolt of musical inspiration after he begins performing songs in a strip club, and Margaret’s desperation leads her to more trouble than she was in before her prison days. Stephens’ voice has the clarity of an aged banjo, and resonates like a catchy sing-along. An enchanting success. --Jonathan Fullmer