Whisper Hollow by Chris Cander is a medley of storytelling created from multiple points of view. The novel takes place in Vera, West Virginia and Whisper Hollow, the small valley across the creek. Whisper Hollow is set in the span of time from 1916 to 1969. Vera is a coal-mining town inhabited by first and second-generation immigrants. Those born there dream of leaving, yet seldom follow their dreams out of town.
In 1916, Myrthen Bergmann is scarred by the death of her twin sister, Ruth. As the weight of guilt from her sister’s accident bears down on her, Myrthen evaporates little by little. Her existence is that of a specter imprisoned in flesh and bone. She seldom speaks to anyone. She shuns the company of others, closing out family and refraining from friendship, while seeking redemption in God’s presence. In spite of her seemingly good intentions, there is something rather dark surrounding Myrthen’s attempts for absolution.
Alta Krohl is fresh, vivid, and a treat amidst the dour faces around her. Alta loves art and longs to leave Vera to be an artist in the outside world, but she lacks the courage to follow her dreams. She seems content watching over her father and three brothers then others as she has since her mother died.
The novel picks up in the last third with the introduction of young Gabriel. A precocious child going on four years, Gabriel speaks his mind to the discomfort of the adults around him. Gabriel has insights into people’s lives. Through Gabriel’s visions, the stories of Vera and Whisper Hollow coalesce. Secrets long hidden reemerge shaking the community.
Whisper Hollow is beautifully written. It is a somber tale. Cander did a wonderful job weaving the multiple points of view together and giving each character a strongly unique voice. The varied accents from Vera’s immigrant community come out solid within Cander’s writing. Unfortunately, the novel did not fully engage me until the end. Parts of the story read too slow. I had little empathy for the characters. With some of the characters, I felt more annoyance than sympathy. It is Alta Krohl’s story that I found most engaging; I pressed through the other characters’ narrations to get back to Alta to see where her story was taking her. Overall, I found Whisper Hollow a good novel with an intriguing conclusion despite the sometimes slowness of the story.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Other Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.