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A haunting, evocative tale about the power of storytelling
A brutal civil war has ravaged the country, and contagious fevers have decimated the population. Abandoned farmhouses litter the isolated mountain valleys and shady hollows. The economy has been reduced to barter and trade.
In this craggy, unwelcoming world, the central character of Scribe ekes out a lonely living on the family farmstead where she was raised and where her sister met an untimely end. She lets a migrant group known as the Uninvited set up temporary camps on her land, and maintains an uneasy peace with her cagey neighbors and the local enforcer. She has learned how to make paper and ink, and she has become known for her letter-writing skills, which she exchanges for tobacco, firewood, and other scarce resources. An unusual request for a letter from a man with hidden motivations unleashes the ghosts of her troubled past and sets off a series of increasingly calamitous events that culminate in a harrowing journey to a crossroads.
Drawing on traditional folktales and the history and culture of Appalachia, Alyson Hagy has crafted a gripping, swiftly plotted novel that touches on pressing issues of our time—migration, pandemic disease, the rise of authoritarianism—and makes a compelling case for the power of stories to both show us the world and transform it.
Hagy (Boleto) probes the weight of responsibility and the desperation of survival in a deteriorated society in this evocative, opaque tale. The unnamed protagonist once wrote letters for the survivors of an unexplained war and collapse of civilization. In the new, mostly illiterate world, her writings held strange powers of persuasion and absolution. Now she hosts the Uninvited a nomadic population that worships her deceased sister's healing gifts in the fields around her secluded home and remains mostly uninvolved with the local power squabbles. When Hendricks, a strange man bearing signs of a dark past, arrives to request a letter detailing his sins, she squashes her natural suspicion of strangers and agrees to his request. Her work on this catalogue of misdeeds leads to a mesmeric blending of memory and hallucination that dredges up the protagonist's guilt over her sister's death and the desperate things she's done to survive. Then, Hendricks seemingly accidentally kills an Uninvited child the protagonist dotes on, and the repercussions threaten to engulf her tenuous control over her land. Compelled by her hallucinations and attraction to Hendricks to fulfill her promise, the letter writer requests permission from local enforcer Billy Kingery for safe passage to deliver Hendricks's letter, and Billy's sabotage leads to a violent, disturbing conclusion involving more slippages between reality and dreams. The vagueness of setting, supernatural elements, and only partially revealed histories amp up the eeriness of this disquieting novel.