Thursday, May 12, 2022

Book Review: Revelator by Daryl Gregory

For today's post, I had the option of doing a back jacket hack job, a regularly occurring segment in which we contributors put on the hat of a total industry hack attempting to write the back cover of a book. Here's a link to my previous Hack Job entry for NOS4A2 by Joe Hill as an example: 

But instead of writing bad copy, I'm going to use this opportunity to paste an actual back jacket blurb of an actual book I just finished.  It's already May--we're almost halfway into 2022 (Dear God! Where does the time go?!?!)--and while I have read a lot of books, few so far have completely wowed me. The first exception to that trend is Revelator by Daryl Gregory, with whom I was familiar because of Spoonbenders, his utterly charming, sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, and sometimes wackadoo book about a family with psychic powers and a history of troubled relations.

Revelator is Gregory's latest book, and with it he takes a darker, eerier turn, creeping very close to horror.

From the back jacket:

ONE OF THE WASHINGTON POST‘S BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR • The dark, gripping tale of a 1930’s family in the remote hills of the Smoky Mountains, their secret religion, and the daughter who turns her back on their mysterious god—from the acclaimed author of Spoonbenders.
“Gods and moonshine in the Great Depression, written with a tenderness and brutality … this is as good as novels get.” —Stephen Graham Jones, author of The Only Good Indians

In 1933, nine-year-old Stella is left in the care of her grandmother, Motty, in the backwoods of Tennessee. The mountains are home to dangerous secrets, and soon after she arrives, Stella wanders into a dark cavern where she encounters the family’s personal god, an entity known as the Ghostdaddy.

Years later, after a tragic incident that caused her to flee, Stella—now a professional bootlegger—returns for Motty’s funeral, and to check on the mysterious ten-year-old girl named Sunny that Motty adopted. Sunny appears innocent enough, but she is more powerful than Stella could imagine—and she’s a direct link to Stella’s buried past and her family’s destructive faith.

Haunting and wholly engrossing, summoning mesmerizing voices and giving shape to the dark, Revelator is a southern gothic tale for the ages.

If I weren't already a fan of Gregory because of how much I enjoyed Spoonbenders, I might have given this book a try simply because it got a great blurb from Stephen Graham Jones. Jones's horror novel, The Only Good Indians, made it onto my list of favorites from 2020 (Here's my very short review of it on Goodreads ).

I'd say what The Only Good Indians and Revelator have in common is a similarly eerie tone, a strong sense of American setting and identity, and both feature "monsters" that are less creatures of fang and claw, and more genius loci. Genius loci are often thought to be protective spirits of the place they haunt, and this is true in both stories. Things only start to go bad when the locals spirits are offended by the  behavior of humans. Both of these books tend to feature that long held theme of many horror novels: Maybe humans are the biggest monsters of all.

I think Revelator particularly spoke to me because it was set in the Smoky Mountains between North Carolina and Tennessee. The Smoky Mountains is a region in my own state that fascinates me, but I have visited only a few times, probably because of how utterly remote they are. Most of my life has been spent exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where my parents now live. However, any time spent in the Appalachians will likely have a visitor convinced those ancient hill are crawling with all sorts of Eldritch beings. This book does a brilliant job capturing  Appalachia's atmosphere of stoicism, isolation, and supernatural possibility.

Every time I thought I knew exactly where the story was going, it would change directions and prove me wrong. Also, I *really* liked Stella, the bootlegging rebel at the heart of the story. If you took a shine to Idgie Threadgood in Fried Green Tomatoes, then Stella might be your kind of girl. If you've read Spoonbenders then you get that Gregory likes to write weird things, and he writes them well. At times Revelator might be a bit eerie or dark, but it was never scary, at least not to me, but I've come to understand I have a pretty high threshold for what's considered scary.

Revelator is going to stay with me for a while, and between it and Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory has evolved into an "insta-buy" author for me.

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