Inspired by the story of Nova Scotia’s Goler clan, this novel about poverty and incest in an isolated mountain family shines light on the dark side of the self-described righteous. Author Lauren B. Davis compares and contrasts two families, one shunned and one an integral part of a typical small town.
The socially accepted, God-fearing, righteous people of Gideon have known about ‘the mountain’ and the people who live there for generations, but except for one quiet widow, they do nothing to help. Albert Erskine, one of the mountain clan, longs to free himself from his family’s threats and takes the first step by moving to his own cabin within the family compound. Bobby, a teenage boy set to rebel against the lifestyle of his parents who are obviously unhappy, latches on to Albert as the elder brother he does not have. Bobby’s little sister Ivy confides her troubles to Dorothy Carlisle, a widowed antique shop owner who loves fine literature. Dorothy loves her quiet life but is reluctantly drawn into giving Ivy emotional support and shelter from bullies at school and a motherless home. She is also the one who has brought food and books to ‘the mountain’ for years.
Davis redeems the brutality of her setting with lyrical descriptions of ugly places: “…last night, when the wind whipped the voices around the tree trunks as though lashing them to the bark, when the rain had banged on the doors like tiny fists, when the wet had dripped through the roof like tears and the chill had crept in through the chinks like an orphan.”
Many scenes in the book are brutal, violent and raw, like real life is for many children. Some readers may be put off by this, but the story, though terrifying, grabs hold from the start and will not let go. I had to find out what happened to the characters I liked and cared about, though I grew more afraid for them with every page. All too often, mainstream society turns away from the worst in people, not wanting to look at the ugliness, allowing incest and child abuse to go on for generations.
The friendships between Albert and Bobby, and between Ivy and Dorothy, are parallel threads running straight to the heart-pounding climax. As we suspect, some people do terrible things, some overcome their fears, and love and hope survive. But not before Davis has forced us to look at ourselves and who we call “the others.”