This spare novel begins with foreboding: “Once I lived in a place where demons dwelled. I was one of them.” The menace never lets up in this page-turner of a literary novel.
It’s the 1850s in Indiana, and 14-year-old Ginny talks her father into letting her marry a sweet-talking man, her mother’s slave-owning second cousin, who has described his Kentucky plantation as an idyllic kind of place. She goes to live with her new husband in an isolated cabin rather than the mansion he had described. Also living in the cabin are two slave girls, ages 10 and 12, whom Ginny befriends, treating them with the small kindnesses that decent people offer one another—but that soon ends.
Beyond metaphor—like demons—Hunt doesn’t moralize, nor does he linger on any single aspect of how American slavery in particular brought out the worst in human nature, how it crippled and scarred everyone involved, leaving a legacy of damage. Instead he gives fast and terrible glimpses. Ginny, spirals downward in her impossible, loveless marriage to her brute of a husband, and when she escapes she’s scarred inside and out.
I read this book in one sitting, and was left feeling as though I had been swept under in the river of this country’s racial history. It has the feel of a classic—something that will be read in history or English classes for years to come, a book that inspires interpretation and reflection. Recommended.