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"Brilliant and deeply unsettling."—Poppy Z. Brite, author of Liquor and Prime
“No one writes like Tom Piccirilli. He has the lyrical soul of a poet and the narrative talents of a man channeling Poe, William Faulkner, and Shirley Jackson....As terrifyingly surreal as an evening alone on the razor-thin boundary between reality and nightmare.”
–T. M. Wright, author of A Manhattan Ghost Story
“Piccirilli creates a geography of pain and wonder, tenderness and savageness. There is as much poet as popular entertainer in Piccirilli’s approach.”–Cemetery Dance
“A novel of supreme and mesmerizing power that reads like a head-on collision between Flannery O’Connor and M. R. James...A masterpiece.”–Gary A. Braunbeck, author of In Silent Graves
You could always go home again, the trouble was getting back out.
Flames lit the surrounding banks of the Chatalaha River, which wound through the mountains in a whitecapped rush. Streams of orange and gold washed over rocks where centuries ago the Indians stoned their elderly in the shallows.
After nearly two years in the can, Shad Jenkins had returned to Moon Run Hollow and hit the first bonfire in the fields he heard about. He figured he'd see everybody there who might be interested, tell his story once and get it over with.
In the twenty-one months he'd been away nothing had changed except that Mags was dead.
He could've been gone for eighteen years, the way his pa had been, and still walked into the roadhouse and seen those gray faces hunched over the pitted bar, their breath making slow ripples in the scratched glasses of whiskey. The men telling the same mediocre stories that circled the place like crows that never set down, going around forever from one hoarse voice to another.
Fathers passed the tired tales to their sons and grandsons the way they bestowed their potbellies, sour-mash stills, and empty wallets. The tin-shack trailers, three acres of rock-cluttered pasture, and their taste for warm, flat beer and moonshine. In a few generations they had gone from being tradition to genetic.
What you really wanted, you could never have. You needed a tragic father to give your life meaning.
Shad broke from the darkness and walked across the clearing until he found the ring of Jeeps, pickups, and 4x4s that had tracked across the field, headlights glowing against the cane. Maybe fifty people in all, about half of them passed out on their feet or jacked on meth and crushed Ritalin.
Jake Hapgood reached into his open cooler and handed Shad a bottle of beer as if they'd seen each other only twenty minutes ago. Jake was one of the very few slick people in Moon Run Hollow. Five-eight in his cowboy boots, wearing a corduroy jacket and tight black jeans, with his dark hair combed into a casually disheveled style, maybe a half inch shy of pompadour. When he smoked he liked to snap the Zippo off his ass, light up, and let the cigarette dangle from his bottom lip, give a half-turn glance over the shoulder to see which girls might be watching. At the moment he was making do with a stalk of grass. It was one of the props that gave him a boyish charm he cultivated to the limit.
Shad checked around. The only woman nearby was Becka Dudlow, the preacher's wife. She was midfifties with angry teeth and perpetually hard nipples that passed harsh judgment on anybody who looked. She was also the main supplier of coke and meth in town, though Shad had never been able to figure out where she imported her stuff from. She'd had a thing for Jake ever since he was in her Bible class.
"If you want something with a little more bite," Jake told him, "Luppy Joe's got a couple jugs of moon making the rounds."
Shad's mouth dried just thinking about the harsh taste of it, a quiver working through his belly. Sometimes you needed it so bad that you had to stay away. "The only liquor I've had for two years was a raisin pruno the cons distilled in their toilets."
"Other guys used to say it was the hardest stuff they'd ever had, flopping around on their bunks and giggling like crazy. Luppy's moon would've taken out most of C-Block in one sitting."
"Jesus Christ," Jake said, giving Shad the long once-over. "You look good. I thought you'd be pale and jittery, but you're more tan than me and I'm outside all afternoon every day. You must've put on at least fifteen pounds too, and it's solid. Works for you." He champed the stalk with his back teeth and it bobbed, twirling this way and that, while Becka Dudlow's eyes followed. "How the hell do you gain weight on institution food? I didn't think prison actually agreed with people."
"But I mean, isn't that the whole point? This is where my tax dollars go? Making you better-looking than me?"
"I didn't mind doing time much," Shad said. "They let me have plenty of books."
"Uh-huh. So all you did was read for two years. Developing your mind."
"More or less." It was the kind of thing that didn't sound true but actually was. Everyone in the hollow would be expecting him to talk about shanking guys in the kidneys, which bubbas tried to pull a train on him. You told them what you could, let them understand as much as they were able, and the rest you kept to yourself for when the right time came.
The world tilted red, then black. He turned toward the back hills, trying to concentrate. A soft dangerous heat began to twine across the back of his neck. Up there in the woods, a vague figure without enough form watched him, luminous broken threads wheeling from its faint pain-filled aura. Somebody up there thinking about him, focusing too deeply.
A soft chortle floated from Jake, the kind of murmur he gave when his lips were pressed to a girl's throat. "I'm surprised the Chamber of Commerce didn't throw you a parade."
"You're near a hero in these parts, you know."
Sure, except that nobody ever visited him, and only Elfie wrote. Three letters, in the beginning, until it got too rough on the both of them.
"If you're gonna kick the snot out of somebody," Jake said, "make certain it's a piece of shit like Zeke Hester. You were right about that. Reverend Dudlow did a nice bit of preaching on your behalf too, gave the rallying cry down by the river, took up the cause. He likes when folks smack hell out of miscreants." Voice dropping to a whisper, but still loud enough for Becka to hear. "Gives him hope that he might beat up his wife one day and they'd praise him in the pulpit for it."
Nothing ever changed, except Mags was dead. Shad had to keep reminding himself, and the rage would surge through him for a moment, get his heart rate up, as he readied himself for what had to come.
"Anyway, don't be shocked if people start clapping you on the back."
It would never happen but Jake made the scene sound almost possible. His brand of sleekness would've gotten him through ten years of prison without a scratch, then killed him half an hour before they let him out.
"My old man told everybody the story, that's why," Shad said, suddenly wanting to speak with his father. "I think he was sort of proud to have a con in the family. Made him feel righteous for a while. He needed that more than anything."
"Have you seen him yet?"
Jake nodded, scanning the crowd, searching for anybody who might get a kick out of seeing Shad again after all this time. A delicate tension hovered between them. Jake wanted to give his condolences but was unsure how to actually get around to it, or how Shad would react.
It was going to be like this with everybody in town, Shad realized.
Jake's gaze landed on Elfie, over there on the other side of the burning stacks of timber, barely visible through the fire, but he said nothing. Shad waited, anticipating a bit more, but maybe he was expecting too much as usual.
"You staying with your pa while you're back?"
"No," Shad said. "Over at Mrs. Rhyerson's boardinghouse."
"Christ, she's still alive?" Jake let out that laugh again, hissy and honeyed. It could get on your nerves after a while if you let it. "I thought she'd be long gone by now. You must be her only boarder. Where's your car?"
"Still got the 'Stang?"
"Yes," Shad told him, knowing what was coming next. "Sat in the garage behind Tub Gattling's used auto parts the whole time I was away, but Tub kept it charged and shined."
"You bought it from him, didn't you? After them other guys died in it, hands on the wheel?"
"Must've made Tub feel like one of his babies had come back to him for warmth and a little tenderness. He loves getting his hands back on the cars he's tuned so fine and let out into the world."
"I suspect you're right."
Jake's stance shifted, his legs set wider apart, shoulders dropping, leaning forward to tell secrets. You learned to look for the subtle body language. "There's still good money to be made in hauling whiskey, if you want to build up a stake to help get you back on your feet. Luppy's always on the lookout for someone who knows the back roads and trails and isn't afraid to jump a crumbling trestle bridge."
Shad took a sip of the thin, watery beer and couldn't figure out why he'd wanted one so badly for the last two years. "I've been out of prison for two days, you looking to send me right back?"
"I know you've mostly kept clear of running moon, but just in case you needed some quick cash. Something to consider. I don't see the 'Stang. Who brought you up here?"
"That's near two miles back to Main Street."
"Needed the exercise."
It was true, in a way. He wanted to become part of the hollow again, even if he hated it.
The lines of Jake's confident face softened again for a second. He searched Shad's eyes and didn't like what he found there. His teeth lost some of their shine and the hip hair sagged. He backed off a couple of feet and tried to let his cool slip over him once more, until he was grinning.
Even so, Shad's stomach tightened, the breeze on his neck wafting by like a girlish hand. You could put some things away and they'd only show up when you were ready to take them out again. Others you had a touch more trouble grabbing hold of and locking down. He'd done okay in the can, but already the hollow was beginning to shake him loose inside.
It didn't take anything much. Just the mounting realization, as he watched them and they watched him, that the embrace of the familiar he'd been hoping for was not coming. He could feel the turning of the world around him, the way a boy does when his voice changes and life draws him across the boundary of manhood. That you're moving from one place to another, and no matter how much you want to go back, you can never return.
Part of Jake's poise was taking things slow, backing off when the mood changed. "Enjoy yourself," he said. "You deserve it. Go catch up."
"Nobody's come over yet."
"Why? I thought I was near a hero in these parts."
Hearing his words flung back at him got Jake grinning again, though he stared at his feet. "Only time anybody's done federal time is 'cause of running moon. You're the first to go away for almost murdering one of their own. Miscreant though Zeke Hester may be. They're afraid of stepping up on you wrong. They're drunk. And excited. They think you're going to kill somebody."
"Do they want me to?"
"I reckon so. It'll break up their day pretty good. But they won't be inviting you over for boysenberry pie for a while." Jake started to drift off. "Still, these people are your friends, don't forget that. Go have yourself some fun, I'll catch up with you later."
A few of them were his friends, and none of them close, but Shad nodded, took another swig, and watched Jake edge in among the others.
He waited for their approach but nobody did. Some of the guys he'd spent most of his life with did little more than cast uncomfortable glances in his direction and tramp off the opposite way. He could understand the discomfort he caused now that he'd become peculiar in a fashion, a curiosity.
Jail was nothing new to them, but a stint upstate was. Maybe they also decided he'd been talking to the feds and spilling the names of moon makers. That he'd been gone for two years and nobody back home had been busted didn't make much of an impression. It gave their lives a little more definition, thinking that the government was coming after them for tax money on homemade liquor. A lot of them still picked up only three channels with the rabbit ears on their television sets.
He could see it in their eager eyes, imagining how he'd been taking it in the ass from his cellmate for the last couple years, or spending all of his time sharpening scrap metal in the tool shop and cutting throats in the shower stalls.
That was all right. You could make peace with anything so long as you had one spot, no matter how small, that nobody could touch.
Shad turned and spotted Elfie Danforth coming at him around the flames, shadows of the others weaving against her. They were spitting moon into the fire because nobody had any more wood or cane to burn. There was nothing better to do so they spewed Luppy's liquor and sort of danced and chased each other around. It wouldn't stop until somebody fell in.
Elfie wasn't quite giving him her usual devastating smile, but at least she wasn't scowling. That familiar, rough tickle started working through his chest. His breathing became ragged and he rubbed his fingertips together, trying to shake off the electrical tingle. These had once been the signs of his affection, and he felt a barely contained sorrow making a grab for his heart.
Sparks scattered, framing her contours as she glided toward him with a calculated thrift of motion. Hips swinging just enough to make him groan. She wore a stylish heavy sweater that didn't conceal any of her natural curves, with her shoulder-length blond hair rising and fanning wildly in the wind.
Her face remained thin and sharp, but in a way that worked. It made you want to run your palms along the angle of her nose, the jut of her chin. Elfie had eyes that weren't entirely fierce but made you think they could easily fill with anger, and you'd do whatever it took to keep that from happening. She squinted when she smiled and really threw everything into it when she laughed, her whole body shuddering, hand on her belly trying to hold it in. She guffawed, low and resonant, none of the silly little-girl snigger that made you wonder if it was all an act, what she might really be after.
They'd made love the night before he'd been arrested. Lying in bed in her trailer out behind her parents' house, listening to the willows swipe at the roof, the metal ringing with a strained note that never let up for a second. Her mama doing the dishes with a fixed regularity, the plates slapping down hard in the sink. Silverware clattering on the porcelain as she took one fork, one spoon, one knife after the other, and rinsed them, dried them, stuck them back in the drawer.
Posted June 9, 2005
An atmospheric southern gothic tale with a heavy crime-oriented attitude makes NOVEMBER MOURNS a powerhouse read. Shad Jenkins returns home to his moonshine-running mountain town called 'The Hollow' to investigate the death of his sister. Megan died on a mountain road long-thought to be haunted, where in years past plague victims were brought to die. Many of his old friends have succumbed to poison moonshine and alcoholism and seem to be slightly crazy, to say the least. As Shad delves deeper into the mystery we learn that he too suffers from visions--whether its a natural psychic gift, a blessing from God, or brought on from moonshine we don't know--but the ghosts of his sister and his mother seem to be trying to help him. Or are they? Tom Piccirilli has written a wonderful, gripping, finely-tuned dark fantasy that draws the reader through a series of amazingly imaginative scenes. Part adventure novel, part thriller, part horror, part ghost story, part southern grit lit, and also very very funny and sweet in places. Definitely do yourself a favor and pick this one up!
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Posted August 30, 2013
Posted June 13, 2013
RIDICULOUS i have read other books by this author and they were great. Only finished this cuz i paid for it. I usually dont rite review...only fid so this time cuz i was very dissappointed!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 12, 2005
A muscular, atmospheric gothic noir tale that crosses a lot of genre boundaries, NOVEMBER MOURNS is one of my very favorite recent reads. It's been over a month and the book still sticks with me...entire passages, concepts, characters. Piccirilli writes with real flare and flavor, crossing literary boundaries at will to find the darkest heart of the subject matter of which he writes. Serious as some of the elements are, this is also a humorous novel, filled with an offbeat, memorable cast of characters. This is a real grabber of a dark fantasy/crime thriller that will drag you through a superstitious town poisoned by moonshine, ignorance, and possibly something much darker.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 23, 2005
What a thrill ride this novel is! Atmospheric, beautifully written, poetic, and darkly gripping. Piccirilli manages to once again transcend genre and give us a literary work that is bizarre, creepy, twisted, and very humorous. And yet November Mourns is also very sweet and moving in spots, with a sorrowful but very gripping story line to it. Unlike anybody else you've ever read before, you'll love all Pic books!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 16, 2005
Shad Jenkins returns from prison to his southern mountain town where the only real trade is in making and running moonshine liquor. His sister has died on an isolated back ground believed to be haunted by the superstitious townsfolk. In an effort to find out the reasons behind her death, Shad searches through the backwoods of the hollow dealing with many of the bizarre, and perhaps insane locals, including a cult of snake handlers, some freakishly abnormal folks, and an unknown enemy who seems to be some kind of supernatural entity that lives in the forest. Piccirilli has great fun here as he straddles a line between suspense, horror, and fantasy. he builds a wonderful tension as Shad explores his own hollow only to discover that either there are strange forces at work in the mountains or possibly everyone is going insane from poisoned moonshine. Moon Run Hollow and its inhabitants are classic creations in the dark fantasy field, with a beautiful but terrible back story involving a yellow fever epidemic and what happened to its victims. Piccirilli's richly textured story and wonderfully gripping narrative voice makes the story even darker and more foreboding as the mystery progresses. Moody, haunting, and memorable, November Mourns is a terrific story you won't soon forget.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
After beating and near killing Zeke Hester for trying to rape his fifteen year old sister Megan, Shad Jenkins is sent up to state prison for two years. While in prison, he takes college courses and teaches another convict how to read. Just before he is due to be released, his father informs him that his sister is dead, found on Gospel Road, only a mark on her cheek and no idea how she died. --- When Shad is released he returns to Moon Run Hollow with its ignorant back woods folk where incest is common and nobody ever speaks of the children born of such a union. Shad is determined to figure out who killed his sister. He visits a congregation of snake handlers who live nearest to the place where Megan died. When he returns to the Hollow he confronts the last person he would ever expect to have killed his innocent sister and realizes no one is sane in the Hollow. --- The protagonist night walks and doesn¿t remember what he does when that happens. He also sees the shade of his sister¿s hand and a convict from the prison he stayed at. Is he hallucinating, going insane or has he come to realize that the natural laws don¿t apply inside the Hollow? Tom Piccirilli writes a dark foreboding gothic like tale in which readers sense that Shad is on the road to his own destiny if he can remain on the path. The lyrical prose and the noir atmosphere makes NOVEMBER MOURNS a memorable work.--- Harriet Klausner
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Posted August 31, 2010
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Posted March 9, 2011
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Posted July 26, 2011
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Posted November 1, 2012
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Posted January 9, 2013
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