Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: January 5th 2016
A wild ride of a novel, Mr. Splitfoot, is of that class of fiction so creative it can hardly be categorized. This is a positive and a negative because it’s subjective enough that a reader will either be highly entertained or completely turned off. Somehow, I fell into both groups. I got the book in 2016 before its release and was unable to make it through more than 10 pages before deciding it was more annoying than quirky and stopped reading. Now, before you think I don’t appreciate weird, one of my most favorite books is The Library at Mount Char , which deserves a new word in the dictionary because it is so out-there. Anyway, however Mr. Splitfoot felt to me the first time, the second time was a charm (thank you, Andi at Estella’s Revenge for winning me over) and whatever pushed me away the first time pulled me in.
This novel is like the most out-of-control college bender you ever went on. Ostensibly it’s the story of Ruth and Cora, Ruth’s niece. After her mother throws bleach in her face young Ruth is removed to foster care. She goes to a home in rural upstate New York, run by a man she’s told to call Father Arthur. His religious leanings extend only far enough to cover his main scam—taking in the most damaged children in the foster system because they come with the largest monthly cash payment. The narrative of Mr. Splitfoot is split between Ruth’s past and Cora’s present day. After she “ages out” of the system at eighteen, Ruth hits the road with her dearest friend, Nat. They use the survival skills they’ve learned from Father and start their own traveling con game—séances to anyone who wants to get in touch with newly departed loved ones. In the present day Cora is pregnant and meets up with the adult Ruth when she shows up looking for a travel companion to an unknown destination.
And that, folks, is about as much of the plot as I can share. Suffice it to say, that Ruth and Cora’s journey is an odd one—solely on foot and without Ruth ever uttering a word. No talking. At all. To anyone. At best, she gestures enough that Cora has a sense of where they’re going but not why. Hunt strings the mystery along as she fills in Ruth’s past, opening the door for any number of destinations and equally as many surprises when they arrive. Suffice it to say there is a cult, the other people at the foster home, angry damaged men looking for Ruth and a lot of missing money.
If suspending belief is not your strong suit, then Mr. Splitfoot may push your patience too far. If your curiosity and a love of the kind of prose that burrows in and beats your thinking mind into submission, then relax. Mr. Splitfoot may be literary grain alcohol, but all is answered in the end and, even better, there’s no hangover.
I’m just telling you what I can observe, an essential skill of scientists and con men alike.