Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Diviner's Tale

I recently received the unproofed eGalley of The Diviner's Tale by Bradford Morrow from NetGalley.com and finished it last night, having read it on my new Kindle over the course of a few days.  Before I talk about the novel itself, let me just say that the experience of reading unproofed galleys on an eReader is just the slightest bit unwieldy.  For starters, the formatting can be nonexistent in places, with paragraphs running into each other, lack of double spaces between paragraphs, and the like.  Nothing too daunting, just...unwieldy.  I didn't hold it against the novel, though, or the process, which overall was one of othe most pleasant I've ever experienced, at least as compared to the one other unproofed galley I ever read, which was spiral bound and printed on 8x10" paper and pretty hard to deal with physically.  I'm sure that was so a reviewer/editor could make notes in the margins, and of course it made perfect sense.  It was just unwieldy in a whole different way.  I was able to make notes and highlight portions of the eGalley on the Kindle without much trouble (just had to remember which button to push when, and to remember to even make notes, especially when engrossed in the story).

So, the technical stuff out of the way, let me just say that The Diviner's Tale, which is the story of the redemption of a family damaged by tragedy as much as it is a ghost story and mystery, has some of the loveliest prose I've read in a long time, with wonderful metaphors and similes and lyrical language.  Here's the first of the passages I highlighted because of a sweet turn of phrase. 

Cass Brooks is a diviner, a witch some call her, who makes her living by locating water (and other lost things, as the story goes on to show) using metaphysical techniques that go back generations in her family.  She's out on some undeveloped, densely forested property in upstate New York, dousing for water so the new property owner can build a huge resort hotel with a fake lake on its grounds.  While she goes about her work, she reminisces a bit about her divining work:

After the twin towers went down, I found myself exploring bonier, harsher, uninhabited land for people from the city looking to relocate, to Thoreau for themselves a haven upstate.   
"To Thoreau for themselves" ~ wonderful! 

Cass is not easy in her vocation, feeling that the world is correct in viewing her a charlatan, that she's a fake who will never be a true diviner like her father the other men of the Brooks family before him were but who must stay in the business because she needs the income her divining brings in.  She ruminates:
No going back, fake or not.  The thing was, for whatever little techniques I had developed to enhance my chances of, as it were, swimming along with the Brookses ~ my own confession will come in due course ~ nothing I had ever done could explain my forevisions, as we called them in our family.
"Swimming along with the Brookses" ~ oh, my.

As to her odd ability to see snatches of the future ~ what she calls "forevisions" or "the monster" and which is something she's been able to do since childhood ~ this ability is pivotal to the story, though a newly developed ability to apparently see into the past becomes even more important.

At the risk of letting slip a spoiler, the past ~ as personified by Cass's fore- and aft-visions ~ plays an important role in the story.  As someone close to her begins to lose the past due to the onset of Alzheimer's disease, Cass begins to recover her own past, which she has hidden from her own conscious mind. 

She describes the symptoms of Alzheimer's in its early stages and its terrible effect on the victim:
...[W]ords [he] had known so well once now eluded him once in awhile, as if they were butterflies and his net had holes in it, flaws in its webbing he didn't know how to fix.
All the while, Cass's past is struggling to come out into the light, both in waking dreams and dreams she has when asleep.  She describes one waking vision where she is talking to someone whose long-ago death affected her deeply:
What's it like there in the land of the dead...?

Like nothing, like floating in warm flowers.

Can you see me?

There's nothing to see except your worries and hopes.

What do they look like?

Knives hovering over you.

The hopes, too?

The hopes especially.
Damn, gives me shivers every time I read that.

The main protagonist and, as I saw it, an unreliable narrator, Cass was annoying in parts ~ the kind of annoying that makes you want to say, "What the heck are you thinking? Why are you doing that? STOP!" and her growth was not delineated in a way that worked well for me. I guess what I'm saying is that I just never quite warmed to her. I loved her twin sons, though ~ Jonah and Morgan, who talk to her and each other like no other 11-year old boys I know but who charmed me and made me wish I'd had twin boys just like them. Other characters were equally charming, some were easy to dislike, and some left me cold. I found the villain ~ or at least the motives for his actions ~ relatively unbelievable, resulting in a lack of strong feeling about him. Not fatal but disappointing, at the very least.

There were some other minor flaws ~ a string or two left hanging at the end (but nothing that presages a sequel), incohesiveness in parts of the storyline due perhaps in part by the illogic of some of the character's motives, and a denoument that was a bit abrupt and somewhat confusing, at least in its chronology. Still, it pulled me in and turned out to be a good read, actually a really good read, and one that to my mind is best savored slowly rather than raced through.  I'm going to look for some of Morrow's earlier novels and am also looking forward to buying a copy of The Diviner's Tale when it comes out next January. I give this 4 stars out of 5.

DISCLAIMER:  This was a free unproofed eGalley, sent to my Kindle by the publisher without strings attached.  The opinions in the review are my own, and I am being paid nothing for my review.  I apologize that I can't give page numbers for the examples set out above, and note that parts of the story may change between now and publication date.

2 comments:

MissWoodhouse said...

Great review! I wouldn't have ever thought to read this, but your review has sparked my interest. Gotta go add it the the TBR. :)

Mary K. from L.A. said...

It will be out in January. Think you'll have whittled your TBR pile down enough by then to have time for it? lol