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Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.
Chris Cander graduated from the honors program at the University of Houston in 1990 with a BA in French and a minor in political science. In 1994, she attended the Ploughshares International Fiction Writer’s Seminar at Kasteel Well, Netherlands. The following year, she attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference.
Although she now focuses her efforts on fiction, Cander also writes children’s books and continues to write articles for health and fitness, lifestyle, and parenting magazines, and is collaborating on two screenplays. She is also a writer-in-residence for Houston-based Writers in the Schools (WITS), which engages children in the pleasure and power of reading and writing.
A former fitness competitor and model, Cander currently holds a 2nd dan in taekwondo.
Cander is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Author’s Guild, the Writers’ League of Texas, and MENSA. She lives with her husband and children in Houston, Texas.
Whisper Hollow is her fourth novel. Others include 11 Stories, The Weight of a Piano, and One Last Time Forever.
New York: Other Press
Trade paper, 978-1-59051-711-6 (also available in e-book and audio)
400 pages, $17.95
March 17, 2015
Whisper Hollow is IPPY award winner Chris Cander’s second novel, a multifaceted story of family, religion, superstition, redemption, and (mostly) good people pushed to desperate means who prove, again, that Faulkner was right – “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Divided into two parts, beginning in 1916 and 1964, respectively, this novel spans most of the twentieth century in Verra, a coal-mining town tucked into the hills and hollows of West Virginia, populated by hard-working immigrants building better lives for their families in a new country. Sadly, not much changed in Verra in all those years. The aspirations of the second generation are just what their parents hoped for, but the attempted fulfillment of those dreams causes conflict and dredges up pervasive European class issues that have stowed away in their steamer trunks.
Cander has created vivid women in Whisper Hollow. Myrthen is a damaged creature whose hubris in the name of religion is breathtaking in its selfishness. “Everything under the heavens was unfolding according to His great plan….If that was so, then whatever she said must be grounded in truth, even it if didn’t actually happen.” Alta, “who tangled with an unrequited lust for life beyond her bounds,” is Myrthen’s foil but not merely that. She’s kind, patient, practical, and loving but she’s not perfect. She is wise and empathetic precisely because she is not perfect. This is Alta-essence, unable to sleep: “Finally, she flung back the sheet, pulled her work pants on underneath her nightgown, stepped into her boots, and went outside to confront the sky.”
Cander can turn a phrase into an unexpectedly evocative image. Alta’s glamorous Aunt Maggie from New York: “Maggie stood so still amid the excited, doting movements of her uncle Punk that she seemed to be floating in the stir of air he whipped up around her.” This is a description of the mountain: “[T]he sounds of the mountain itself, what being inside the body of a very old man might be like: creaking joints and groaning shifts of position, something trying to get comfortable even while being methodically eviscerated in three eight-hour shifts every day.” This is Alta upon discovering a note containing a decades-old secret: “She stood holding it with both hands, staring at it beneath the bulb light as though it were a time capsule or a present or a bomb.” It is all of those things. And asparagus has never been so romantic.
Intricately plotted and executed, the book’s foreshadowing as the climax of part two approaches steadily ratchets the suspense level until you want to jump up and down and holler and point. Whisper Hollow is an unforgettable example of both the smallness and the largeness of the human heart and a lesson in absolution: we get it from each other and we owe it to each other. Hats off to Cander for the research required to reproduce a place and an era, as well as for the talent that alchemized that research into this novel.
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