Mr. Splitfoot Hardcover – January 5, 2016
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From the Publisher
Samantha Hunt's Favorite Ghost Stories
What’s your favorite ghost story?
To quote Kelly Link, “I’ll give you two things. Three things. No, just two. The third one is a secret.”
My first favorite ghost story comes from Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. In 2004 they built a sound walk through Central Park called Her Long Black Hair. This piece features three old photos of a stranger (presumably), a woman with long black hair who had once walked through Central Park posing for photos along the way. Cardiff and Miller recreated this woman’s walk, imagining the crumbs of her life though the woman and her photographer were long gone. Cardiff and Miller’s piece singly leads participants down the same path the woman and then the artists followed. Layers and layers of time piling up, places getting haunted by all the people who ever walked there. The stereo effect of the headphones places Cardiff’s footsteps and voice directly behind you. So someone who came before you is now following you? It’s creepy and early on in the walk, just as you become aware of her footsteps, Cardiff whispers “Don’t turn around.” It’s chilling and impossible advice for me to follow when ghosts abound even in the most public places. Many of the ghosts are still alive. History’s everywhere and I look back all the time. Mr. Splitfoot uses this idea of well-trod routes. It follows the Erie Canal, a path loaded with ghosts and old stories. The canal serves as a spine and pathway through nearly all the meteorite landings in New York. The cult in Mr. Splitfoot is inspired by meteors. The Erie Canal easily became the River Styx for me.
What’s your second favorite ghost story?
I found my second favorite ghost story on a box of Honeycomb cereal when I was a girl. A spooky 45 record one could cut from the box. I still have it. Wade Dennings’ version of “The Hitchhiker.” A young dead girl is given a ride home. Dennings’ eerie voice and the image on the record—a full moon, an open grave—became such deep obsessions, my brain granted them permanent residencies. So of course a couple versions of “The Hitchhiker” are laced throughout Mr. Splitfoot.
It’s not the only record that made the book. Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan’s Golden Records (those compilations of life on Earth that are still cruising through space onboard Voyager I and II, looking for life out there) make an appearance in Mr. Splitfoot. Books and records are the best ghosts. I think of Italo Calvino addressing his reader so directly in Chapter 1 of If on a winters night a traveler. He’s talking right to me even though he’s been dead since 1985. Records are even better ghosts because they come around and around again like the themes in Mr. Splitfoot: old friends, myths, patterns in religions and cults, footsteps, daughters becoming moms.
And records, just like people, can get stuck, skipping on a scratch.
From School Library Journal
A Publishers Weekly Bestseller
Featured on the New York Times Paperback Row
Longlisted for the Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize
January 2016 Indie Next Pick
A Paris Review Staff Pick
Named a Best Book of 2016 by MPR News
One of TimeOut New York's "15 Best Books of 2016"
One of Esquire's "The 25 Best Books of 2016 (So Far)"
One of Refinery 29's "The Best Books Of 2016 So Far"
One of Paste Magazine's "The 16 Best Fiction Books of 2016 (So Far)"
One of BookRiot's "The Best Books Of 2016, So Far"
One of Huffington Post's "5 Hot Books"
Featured on iBooks's "25 Best Books of January"
One of Read It Forward's "Favorite Reads of January"
A BookBrowse Editor's Choice
“Samantha Hunt’s third novel, MR. SPLITFOOT, will haunt me...I’ve dog-eared so many pages in honor of vivid prose that my advance reader’s copy of MR. SPLITFOOT curls up with fattened corners...the novel moves not just in two time frames, told through two voices, a first-person narrator and a third-, but also…it moves in the fourth dimension, stamping itself upon the reading mind. Hypnotic and glowing, MR. SPLITFOOT insists on its own ghostly presence.”—Gregory Maguire, New York Times Book Review
"The historical and the fantastical entwine like snakes in Samantha Hunt’s fiction...Turned around and around in these woods, you won’t always know where you are, but there’s a rare pleasure in this blend of romance and phantoms."—Washington Post
"This gripping novel alternates between two story lines: in one, the budding con artists Nat and Ruth struggle to survive in an abusive Christian foster home; in the other, set some years in the future, Ruth, inexplicably rendered mute, leads her niece, Cora, on a journey across New York State on foot. The narratives, which twist together into a shocking dénouement, are marked by ghost stories, from Nat and Ruth’s forays into the world of mediums and séances to Cora’s struggle to piece together her aunt’s past. 'History holds up one side of our lives and fiction the other,' one character tells Cora, and the novel’s pleasures lie in the intersections between the two."—New Yorker
"The ghosts of industrial America haunt the author’s picaresque third novel alongside the maybe-supernatural kind. Deep in upstate New York, two orphaned teens break free of the shady Love of Christ! foster home and make a business of claiming to channel the dead; years later, one of them, Ruth, turns up mute and gaunt at the home of her pregnant niece and draws her into a mysterious march along the Erie Canal. The two narratives alternate suspensefully, building a world of hidden forces and untethered souls that feels like the dystopia we already live in."—Vulture, "7 Books You Need to Read This January"
“Mr. Splitfoot [is] at once an intriguing mystery with clues, suspense, enigmas galore, and an exhilarating, witty, poignant paean to the unexplainable, the unsolvable, the irreducibly mysterious...[Hunt's] epistemological and ethical rigor are complemented by a lovely respect for what remains uncategorizable, unable to be mastered or explained away."—The Boston Globe
"If you're looking for one of those books that's an escapist adventure, a gothic page-turner that is also so finely crafted that you'll feel enriched as well as transported for having read it, try Mr.Splitfoot. The novel features two intertwining storylines, beginning with the education of two orphans who learn to interact with the dead, and relocating decades later when one of those orphans comes to find her niece and bring her on a mysterious journey. Samantha Hunt's prose sparkles whether she's writing about the most mystical of moments deep in a seance, or the more mundane times when niece and aunt stay slog through upstate New York as they set out for who-knows-where. The way the narratives ultimately come together is unsettling yet satisfying that the novel practically begs to be called 'haunting.'"—Esquire, "The 25 Best Books of 2016 (So Far)"
"Turn to any page of this one-of-a-kind Gothic fiction about motherhood and hauntings—literal and metaphorical—and you'll come upon moments of startling originality...Hunt is scary good."—O, The Oprah Magazine, "10 Favorite Books of 2016"
"Zombies are out, ghosts are in. [Hunt] taps into the cultural zeitgeist with a new novel blurring the natural and supernatural."—Wall Street Journal, "Six Books to Curl Up With This Winter"
"The way I feel about Samantha Hunt’s Mr. Splitfoot is how one of its characters describes meeting his wife: 'We fell in love in a bloody way, thorns and hooks'...Ruth’s and Cora’s experiences of that landscape are like hallucinatory expeditions through a gothic wasteland. Somewhere along the way, Hunt conned me into believing that temporary possession by a hellish demon isn’t, after all, so different from the crucible of motherhood."—The Paris Review, Staff Pick
"I started the recent novel Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt, and there I was. Lost. The 'real world' seemed only marginally more real than the scary religious cult in upstate New York, where the novel is partly set. Though it wasn’t a pleasant place, I was thrilled to be somewhere I would never, in real life, want to be."—Francine Prose in the New York Times
"Creepy, disquieting and unsettling, this book grabs the reader right away."—TimeOut New York, "15 Best Books of 2016"
"Hunt mixes her gothic ingredients with great skill, and throws in some quirky contemporary twists for good measure...The result is a riveting, linguistically playful tale about demons (real or imagined), loss, magic and motherhood."—Financial Times
"Hunt’s back with a modern gothic starring a scam-artist orphan who claims to talk to the dead; his sister who ages into a strange, silent woman; and, later, her pregnant niece, who follows her aunt on a trek across New York without exactly knowing why. Also featured: meteorites, a runaway nun, a noseless man, and a healthy dash of humor. Although it’s still too early to speculate on the prize-winning potential of Mr. Splitfoot, Hunt’s fantastical writing is already drawing favorable comparisons to Kelly Link and Aimee Bender, and her elegantly structured novel promises to be the year’s most unusual ghost story."—The Millions, "Most Anticipated: The Great 2016 Book Preview"
"Mr. Splitfoot is going to be a wild ride. If you're all about magical realists like Kelly Link, this is one title you'll need to pick up, because Samantha Hunt's third novel takes the banal and rockets it into the fantastic (and the fantastically wonderful). I don't want to divulge too much about this one because I'd rather you read it yourself, but I will say that if you love dual narrative structures or complicated timelines, this is an especially good pick for your must-read list."—Bustle, "17 Of 2016’s Most Anticipated Books To Put On Your Wishlist Immediately"
"Spooky and unnerving...Part gothic spine-chiller, part bleak, backwoods road novel, Mr. Splitfoot ranges all over the modern-day Burned-over District...Cora’s journey with Ruth is confounding, rich in backwoods weirdness, spooky and strange and artfully intertwined with the slowly unwinding story of Ruth and Nat’s earlier adventures...[Mr. Splitfoot] exhume[s] the carnival of millenarianism and inter-realm interaction that swept the region two centuries ago, resurrecting it in a tale both strange and terrifying on the same scorched earth where evangelical fire once burned."—Paste Magazine
"Mr. Splitfoot is an eerie and electrifying read — mixing modern and gothic, and blurring the line between the living and the dead...Even if the supernatural is not your cup of tea, the frenetic style of Mr. Splitfoot will sweep you up in the book's wildly unraveling reality."—MPR News, "The best books of 2016 (so far)"
"It's a sure bet both of Hunt's narratives - one fast, one slow; each propelled by tight, tense sentences - will converge in space, if not in time, but how she makes it happen is as satisfying as it is unpredictable. Mr. Splitfoot is a horror story of sorts, but Hunt is careful not to summon anything supernatural in the daylight. 'Every story is a ghost story,' we're told more than once. A hint? A red herring? Hard to say."—Philadelphia Inquirer
"The natural and supernatural quickly blur, as characters like Captain Ahab and Huck Finn pop up in this suspenseful, wryly witty novel.”—Huffington Post, "5 Hot Books"
"Fans of the wondrous and strange will find solace in Samantha Hunt’s haunting novel...Hunt's narrative drips in magical realism, so you’ll have to roll with the whimsy and supernatural elements, including Nat’s charming ability to communicate with mischievous ghosts."—Refinery 29, "5 Terrific New Books To Read This January"
"[A] quirky, mysterious novel...Hunt has conjured an unusual and engaging story...Hunt’s aim is not to be believable, but to play with the unanswerable questions and mysteries that underlie life. The emotional connections between Hunt’s key characters are authentic, as is the unusual world she creates at Love of Christ!, and her writing is lively and funny. At times it felt like both Cora and I were on a wild goose chase, trailing Ruth wherever she went, but I gladly followed, eager to reach the surprising conclusion of this enigmatic journey."—The Dallas Morning News
“Hunt maintains a dark and disturbing atmosphere throughout this intriguing, well-drawn gothic, creating a terrain that’s familiar and yet alien and unnerving at the same time…If all stories are ghost stories, if our pasts do haunt us, maybe they can save us, too.”—Miami Herald
"An American Gothic fever dream...Hunt's packed prose writhes with hallucinatory detail. At her best, she lurches from lyricism to cynicism in short, declarative sentences."—Chicago Tribune
"[Mr. Splitfoot] conjures ghosts with startling prose and enough hope to sway even the most hardened of nonbelievers."—San Diego Book Review
“The devil unquestionably stalks these pages, but so do more benevolent spirits, and the novel ends, unexpectedly, on a note of uplift and hope. An episodic picaresque that is undeniably strange and often intriguing.”—The Globe and Mail
“Mr. Splitfoot has the offbeat charm of Scarlett Thomas’ work, while the theme of communing with the dead inevitably brings Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black and Sarah Waters’ Affinity […] to mind… Its vision of unexpected love and loyalty remains compelling.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Love dark, creepy, gothic books about orphans in group homes speaking to the dead, mysterious strangers, arduous journeys, cults, and homicidal maniacs? Who doesn’t? While I am notoriously grumpy when it comes to dual storylines, the two threads in this book, separated by time and place, were so artfully woven together and linked by such mysterious and sympathetic characters, I was hanging out on the edge of my seat anticipating what would become of them. As the plots began to converge, I was absolutely addicted. This could’ve easily been a one-sitting book."—Andi Miller, BookRiot, "The Best Books Of 2016, So Far"
“You’ll want to savor every fiendish bit of this book. With her latest novel, Samantha Hunt has delivered a gothic tale that’s both deliciously creepy and emotionally satisfying, combining supernatural intrigue and thematic weight…Hunt’s confidence in her story propels the book from page one, a task made all the more impressive when you consider the murky waters it traverses. Mr. Splitfoot is about the divide between the natural and the supernatural, between faith and reason, and in the hands of a storyteller like Hunt…the novel becomes something truly special. If you’re a lover of rule-breaking ghost stories, spoiler alert: Mr. Splitfoot is for you.”—BookPage
“This deeply inventive Gothic story is about two women with a shared past and a mysterious future…Part ghost story, part love story, part modern gothic horror, Mr. Splitfoot is an original, vivid and compelling work of literary fiction…A rewarding journey.”—BookBrowse
“Ethereal...The book deftly straddles the slippery line between fantasy and reality in a story that’s both gripping and wonderfully mystifying...[I]nterconnected chapters builds suspense while keeping readers guessing about what crazy turn might happen next. Hints of what’s in store for readers include a cult of Etherists, a noseless man, a pile of lost money, and a scar-like pattern of meteorite landings. This spellbinder is storytelling at its best.”– Publishers Weekly, starred
"A truly fantastic novel in which the blurring of natural and supernatural creates a stirring, visceral conclusion."—Kirkus Reviews, starred
"An entrancing, modern, haunted tale...[Mr. Splitfoot] belongs in the welcome genre of books by new writers who don't accept the confines of modern literary fiction's terse and limited geometry, its focus on flawed human relationships and their legacy. Yes, these are humans; yes, there are relationships—beautiful ones, fraught ones; humans with tremendous flaws. (No one but perhaps Flannery O'Connor has pegged the grotesque rage underlying religious fundamentalism this well.) An exuberant writer, Hunt furnishes every millimeter of her story with life, with palpable losses, longing, desire, tenderness, and even the trappings of pop culture. If you're craving the tangy prose and warm sweep of a really well-wrought novel, you'll find it here...But it's the liberties Hunt takes that make this novel levitate into something wholly remarkable and new. She's such a powerful writer that she naturally reaches beyond the usual canonized frame of what's real...Delve into this tightly crafted book. And then: sweet dreams."—Chronogram
"The author of the wonderful Tesla novel, The Invention of Everything Else, is back with a contemporary gothic about orphan children who can channel the dead, a mysterious mission, and something hidden in the woods."— BookRiot,"15 Books Out in 2016 You Should Mark Down Now: Fiction Edition"
“Hunt’s enchanting third novel adeptly obscures the line between earthly and the metaphysical. Decades after leaving her fundamentalist foster home, Ruth, now mute, encounters her pregnant niece, Cora. The two women embark on a twisted and otherworldly quest—intensified by Hunt’s lucid imagery—across New York state, where contemporary society is obscured in the wake of sublime characters and hair-raising happenings.”—DuJour
"[A] perfectly formed snow-globe of a novel the exists in it's own well-crafted universe that hangs together remarkably well no matter how hard you try to shake it up...Hunt is an excellent writer, with real talent for character development, dialogue and atmosphere. There are lots of story links to discover that span the 14-year-gap that separates the twin narratives - many of which will may only be uncovered upon a second reading. That perhaps is the magic of Mr Splitfoot - a novel whose real charms are only largely evident once you finish the final page."—New Zealand Herald
"A supernatural road trip."—Vanity Fair, "In Short"
“I get the chills. Is it a true story? Is it a sad story? It’s what people want. It has a lot of good energy and people, people will like it. They will keep reading it until they read the end of it. It’s intriguing because a person will know there’s something two-sided. Yeah. It’s a good one.”—Charlotte Brontë, speaking through a medium
“Part road trip, part gothic, Mr. Splitfoot belongs on the shelf beside The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Samantha Hunt is astonishing. Her every sentence electrifies. Her characters demand our closest attention. Her new book contains everything that I want in a novel. If I could long-distance mesmerize you, dear reader, into picking up this book and buying it and reading it at once, believe me: I would.” – Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble, Magic for Beginners, and many others
“Samantha Hunt's new book is a revelation. It's emotionally precise, brilliantly imagined and flat out spooky. A gothic novel that somehow manages to feel thrillingly contemporary and wholly original.” – Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation
“I'm speechless. Mr. Splitfoot is so inventive, so new; I haven’t read anything like it in years. On the surface it's about false spirituality and the most demented road trip across New York State ever attempted, but it's also about the horrible ties that bind us and the small acts of redemption that make life almost okay. On top of that, it’s a thrilling page-turner. I couldn’t stop reading it.” – Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure, Super Sad True Love Story, and many others
“Mr. Splitfoot is lyrical, echoing, deeply strange, with a quality of sustained hallucination. It is the best book on communicating with the dead since William Lindsay Gresham's Nightmare Alley, but it swaps out that novel's cynicism for a more life-affirming sense of uncertainty.” – Luc Sante, author of Low Life and many others
“Mr. Splitfoot is an absolutely thrilling book. Filial and maternal love are on display in all their complicated hugeness. But Hunt gives us plenty of humor amid the horror and awe-- and then turns on the lights and shows us what was looming above us the whole time. I can't stop thinking about it.” – Sarah Manguso, author of Ongoingness, Two Kinds of Decay, and others
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0544526708
- ISBN-13 : 978-0544526709
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.13 x 8.25 inches
- Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition (January 5, 2016)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #713,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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If I told you this novel is nonlinear, the leisure reader in you might roll your eyes. But while it is technically nonlinear (though not nearly as in depth and insane as Cloud Atlas), there are basically two storylines you need to follow.
I'm tempted to talk about the plot here, but let's not. Let me just say that it's a shame that more people haven't read this novel. This novel is psychedelic and poetic and hypnotic. Once the ending comes, it hits you hard, and there's an OH-moment. And I can't say what that OH-moment is. That's a discussion to be had with two people who've read this novel. Talking about it in this review (even without any plot points) would dismantle the entire experience.
I hope you give this novel a chance. Stick with it. It's not very long. It's not a thriller; it's not a horror; it's not science fiction; it's not a comedy; it's not a drama. I don't know what the the heck this novel is, in terms of genre, but it's amazing.
Con artists, religious cults, doomsday prophets, and ghost stories - all of it should add up to a book I loved. Instead, Mr. Splitfoot was an absolute slog for me, losing its way in overwritten and turgid prose more interested in showing off than in conveying a story, confusing "cryptic" for "interesting", and never realizing that it takes a certain kind of story to handle a lack of clear answers, and this sure isn't one.
Much of the blame for that has to be laid at the feet of the Ruth and Cora story, whose tedium really can't be overstated for me; while the initial mystery is intriguing (where are they going? Why won't Ruth talk?), the story feels like it's spinning its wheels waiting on the point where it can intersect with the other plot thread, and so instead we get chapter after chapter after chapter of the characters walking and Cora thinking to herself. Which, in of itself, might not be a bad thing, but Hunt never brings much interesting to the table in these sequences, and at a certain point, the big reveals she has at the end of the story are so weak and pointless that they can't justify the wait to get there.
But even the section of the book that follows Ruth in her childhood falls flat ultimately, as the plot gets more and more ludicrous and twisty, robbing it of its pleasures. Setting aside Hunt's showy writing, the group home material is at least engaging, if eye-rollingly Gothic at times. And as the con man surrogate father enters the book, there's a sense that at least we're going somewhere fun. But, alas, that's not meant to be, as things get silly once again by the end and Hunt's convoluted story starts doubling back on itself.
Mr. Splitfoot feels like a Gothic ghost story that's embarrassed to admit that it's a genre piece, and so it gussies itself up with overwrought prose and leaves enigmas aplenty so as to feel "literary". But the enigmas aren't thought-provoking; they're tedious and annoying. And the prose is never engaging or rich; it's just distracting and forced. It all adds up to a slog on just about every level.
Top reviews from other countries
It features two, intertwining narratives. The first is set a few decades ago and follows Nat and Ruth orphans who live at a care home run by an ultra-religious man known only as "The Father." They start talking to the dead, and it's generally unclear whether they really can do this or whether they're just good con artists. In any case this new "skill" helps them to leave the home and the first narrative follows them as they do.
The second narrative is set in the present day and follows an older Ruth who now won't speak, or maybe can't speak, walking across New York with her pregnant niece, Cora. Cora tells this part in the first person and follows Ruth without really knowing why.
It's all just so delightfully creepy and is unlike anything else I've read in a long time. There are elements of the best of Palahnuik and Copeland here, along with an atmosphere from favourite childhood ghost stories. I sort of want to just go back and read it all over again
Because of the gap I ended up having between finishing the book and starting to write this review, I made myself have a quick re-read. This isn’t to say I’d forgotten everything that happens – far from it! I wanted to experience the climax of the novel again, and the emotions that came with it. After my first reading I felt mind-fucked, marginally confused, and emotionally drained. Trying to get my head around what I’d just read made me question everything that was written, searching for the psychological implications which I felt had to be there. After the second reading, however, I was a lot more aware of the supernatural, spiritual vibe. I seemed to question a lot less of what was happening and just went with it, from which I feel I benefited. I noticed singular sentences that were just glanced over at first have so much more significance the second time around, sometimes so much so they acted like massive signposts, flashing “THIS IS PRETTY MUCH THE WHOLE STORY”. I’m a sucker for well-planted foreshadowing so this made me go all tingly.
Hunt is an extremely skilled writer. She plays with the smallest details of her sentences and does so to such a great effect; it reads both fluidly and disjointed and this is perfect for the story she is telling. Even the way she constructs the simplest of images is phenomenal, and for a novel that really does not have much in the way of descriptive passages, it’s impressive. The scenes with Cora and Ruth walking should be dull - they are walking, coming across some things on the way – but you read each word with your breath held, needing to know if they’ll reach their destination soon. The fact that both this storyline and the hugely intricate plot of young Ruth and Nat are given equal scope in a book that is just over 300 pages long is impressive, as they could easily be novels in their own right.
I know I haven’t said a great deal about the story itself but this is definitely a “the less you know, the more you’ll benefit” kind of book. I found Mr Splitfoot harrowingly affecting with some subtle philosophical moments, and for me it was one of the most perfect pieces of escapist fiction I’ve ever read.
Part mystical, part romance, part suspense thriller
Set in modern day but submerged back to growing up in 60s and 70s enlisting songs ,technology , real life events, furniture, pop culture , images and ideas from back then
All of it woven into a driving compelling tale you need to know
How will this end? You think and after it ends you keep thinking back to the beginning
A must read again tale