Witches on the Road Tonight

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By the best-selling author of The Dress Lodger, Sheri Holman’s new and most ambitious novel to date, Witches on the Road Tonight, uncovers the secrets and lies that echo through three generations of one Appalachian family. It is a deeply human, urgent exploration of America’s doomed love affair with fear.

On the eve of World War II, eight-year-old Eddie Alley lies in bed watching his first horror movie, hand-cranked and flickering on the bare wall of a backwoods cabin. In 2011, ...

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By the best-selling author of The Dress Lodger, Sheri Holman’s new and most ambitious novel to date, Witches on the Road Tonight, uncovers the secrets and lies that echo through three generations of one Appalachian family. It is a deeply human, urgent exploration of America’s doomed love affair with fear.

On the eve of World War II, eight-year-old Eddie Alley lies in bed watching his first horror movie, hand-cranked and flickering on the bare wall of a backwoods cabin. In 2011, Eddie’s daughter, Wallis, an anchorwoman for a twenty- four-hour news channel, lies in bed with a stranger, spinning ghost stories. Between these two nights winds the story of the Alley family — Eddie’s mother, Cora, an Appalachian mountain witch who slips out of her skin after nightfall; Captain Casket, Eddie’s alter ego, a campy 1970’s TV horror-movie host; and Jasper, the orphaned boy Eddie brings home, who is determined to destroy Eddie’s illusions even if it means destroying himself.

Deftly moving from the rural, Depression-era South to modern New York City, Holman teases out the dark compulsions and desperate longings that can blur the line between love and betrayal. Witches on the Road Tonight is an unflinching story that digs at the roots of myth — both familial and societal — and beautifully renders our perpetual yearning to make sense of the past in our present.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

While Sheri Holman was still in the early stages of outlining The Witches on The Road Tonight, she described it to a bn.com interviewer as "a new novel about the ways we pass along fear." Apparently, that fear is multigenerational bequest: Eddie Alley's mother earns unwelcome fame as a practicing Appalachian witch. To distance himself from her notoriety, Eddie moved to New York City, becoming "Captain Casket," an outlandish TV horror-movie presenter who attracts a cult audience. That kitschy parody, however, doesn't get our hero off the hook. His adolescent daughter begins to feel her own ghostly yearnings and other disturbing things begin to rustle in the night winds. Sheri Holman has composed a novel worthy of comparison to her word-of-mouth favorite The Dress Lodger. Editor's recommendation.

Carrie Brown
Witches on the Road Tonight moves both forward and backward in time, with the principal voices, Tucker, Eddie and Wallis, speaking in an alternating and often lyrical chorus. Holman's previous novels…are distinguished by splendid writing, and her gifts are dramatically evident here. She is as eloquent about the physical landscape of her stories as she is about the internal terrain of human emotion…At its core, Witches on the Road is less about monsters and witches than it is about people whose fears and failings are profoundly and recognizably human.
—The Washington Post
Julie Myerson
[Holman's] prose, at first glance irksomely voluminous (she never uses one word where four will do) somehow manages to make the most extravagant ideas seem both vivid and likely. She also boasts a fine, Gothic imagination, summoning fragments of visceral detail at will…Holman evokes the blur between the real and the supernatural as if it were the most straightforward thing, a knack possessed by few writers, though Alice Hoffman immediately springs to mind.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Holman (The Dress Lodger) investigates a dynasty of fear, mysticism, guilt, and love, beginning in Depression-era Appalachia through to contemporary Manhattan, in her uneven but heartbreaking latest. In 1940, Eddie Alley is a shy boy living in rural Virginia with his mother, Cora, who is dogged by rumors of witchcraft. A visit from a writer and photographer from the WPA opens Eddie's eyes to the possibilities outside his tiny town, starting him on the path to becoming Captain Casket, a cartoonish TV horror movie presenter. But beneath Captain Casket's makeup and kitsch lurk secrets and tortures waiting to burst out. Holman dodges back and forth over a 70-year period, checking in on Eddie, Cora, Eddie's daughter Wallis, and homeless teenager Jasper, whom Eddie takes in and acts as a reluctant lynchpin for a tortuous familial would-be love triangle. Though the story flags in the middle section, it does recover in time to map out the devastating consequences of sin and circumstance that were forged in the hills of Appalachia and tumbled down through the generations. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

A New York Times Editors' Choice
Winner of an Independent Publisher Book Awards Gold Medal for Literary Fiction

“Undeniably impressive . . . [Holman] boasts a fine Gothic imagination, summoning visceral details at will . . . [and] evoking the blur between the real and the supernatural as if it were the most straightforward thing, a knack possessed by few writers, though Alice Hoffman immediately springs to mind. . . . [Witches on the Road Tonight] explores the dark vein of magic that runs just beneath our real lives.”—The New York Times Book Review

"Holman is a master of the miniature. She uses tiny, achingly accurate details to bring each moment to life on the page; her sentences sing. . . . This richly layered novel is Holman's most ambitious and successful yet."—People (4 stars)

“[Witches on the Road Tonight takes readers] deep into the secretive silence and sublime vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a setting which Holman splendidly evokes in all its eerie beauty. . . . . She is as eloquent about the physical landscape of her stories as she is about the internal terrain of human emotion. . . . Seductive and hallucinatory . . . Witches on the Road Tonight is less about monsters and witches than it is about people whose fears and failings are profoundly and recognizably human.”—The Washington Post

“Holman’s clear and thoughtful prose deals with guilt, love, and the possibility of redemption. . . . [A] rich and rewarding read, elegant and assured.”—The Barnes & Noble Review

“Sheri Holman has an imagination that is both capacious and meticulous, and by turns somber and antic. . . . One of the pleasures of Witches on the Road Tonight is Holman’s copious knowledge of American popular cultures as they shade into American folk culture. . . . [Holman] is not exploiting the current rage for vampires, witches, and werewolves—[her] magic is homegrown and rooted in the soil. Holman’s characters have bona fide issues of identity and legitimate sources of pain that magic exacerbates rather than erases. The originality here lies in the author’s ability to reshuffle the materials of pop literature and contemplate them anew. . . . Holman [has] a restless adventurousness that is the mark of a born novelist, the sort of novelist who can’t help writing even if the novel is dying or literary culture is evolving or apps are replacing human brains. Witches on the Road Tonight is a path into her work that beckons, with strange lights and mysterious apparitions.”—Los Angeles Review of Books

“Sheri Holman is a difficult writer to categorize. She can write an elegantly observant novel of domestic absurdity, and she can write a book humming with Romantic misery and ghastly horror. . . . . Holman is an original, and her literary ideas are so sublimely odd that they seem to have exited her imagination of their own free will. . . . Marvelously creepy, touching, and tender . . . Witches on the Road Tonight is about the power of narrative and its hold on us. . . . The dialect we speak now, Holman says with eloquence, humor, and urgency, is that of televised natural disaster, war, starvation. Instead of horror, we have terror.”—The New York Review of Books

"Mysterious, beautiful, and immediately engrossing, Witches on the Road Tonight is a tour de force of meticulous research brought urgently to life by headlong, transporting prose."—Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit From the Goon Squad

“A spooky, multigenerational ghost story . . . Eerie and fascinating . . . Vivid and lushly written . . . Holman explores an ambitious collection of themes: the fearful “monsters” created by ignorance and prejudice; the burden of limited roles for women and how they can deform and disconnect; the myth of the obedient wife and mother and the tradition of heterosexual marriage; and the importance of a safety zone between fear and reassurance and whether in today’s world we can still expect to find it. . . . [Witches on the Road Tonight] casts its spell . . . and reminds us of the dark side that’s trapped in the mirror until we’re willing to look long enough to see what’s really staring back.”—Atlantic Journal-Constitution

“Holman is among the most deserving American novelists for promotion to the A-list. . . . She is a writer clearly fascinated by the fictional possibilities of history. . . . Yet it isn’t her intriguing approach to the past that is most rewarding about reading Sheri Holman, but the distinctive sentences she uses to bring that past to idiosyncratic life. . . . There is humor in Holman’s prose, and intelligent ironies, but no camp, no ghoulish excess. Witches on the Road Tonight is a serious novel about America’s relationship with—and arguable reliance upon—homegrown mythologies: horror B-movies, the cabin in the woods, Southern black magic and, yes, witches. For readers who like their trendy monsters delivered in wise and sensual lines, and with a side order of cultural insight.”—The Globe and Mail

“[Holman’s] weird and wonderful new novel, Witches on the Road Tonight, is a blend of backwoods sorcery and ageless heartbreak. . . . Holman expertly untangles and reweaves many threads in this novel: among them, the lure and revulsion of both external and emotional violence; the complexity of sexual love; the fragility of the relationships we construct; real and perceived ghosts; and, of course, witchcraft. . . . Witches on the Road Tonight haunts. As the twisted narrative unfolds with tantalizing surprises, Sheri Holman displays her own kind of sorcery, making us believe what we might not otherwise believe.”—Bookpage (online)

“Riveting . . . A truly great story . . . Holman’s gifts for Gothic prose and palpable details . . . [and her] ability to ride that line between supernatural sensationalism and everyday occurrences carries readers’ enthusiasm. . . . With a tale this deliciously imaginative and the telling of it so delightfully descriptive, Holman has crafted not only a mesmerizing and complex story, but she’s created something that is truly a pleasure to read. Let Witches on the Road Tonight slip in and weave its magic in your mind, it will leave you spellbound.”—PopMatters (8 out of 10)

"Heartbreaking . . . Holman investigates a dynasty of fear, mysticism, guilt, and love, beginning in Depression-era Appalachia through to contemporary Manhattan . . . [and] maps out the devastating consequences of sin and circumstance."—Publishers Weekly

“Vibrantly atmospheric, Holman’s stealthily ambiguous novel of suspense glitters with the force of sins and indiscretions unbounded by time.”—Booklist

“Past and present, reality and dreams, harsh truths and dangerous delusions mingle intriguingly in this unusual fourth novel from the versatile author of vivid historical and contemporary fiction. . . . Holman tells this eerie tale with considerable skill . . . extending her range and never failing to surprise and engage.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Sheri Holman is an amazing talent, and Witches on the Road Tonight is her most accomplished work to date. Beautifully written and brilliantly realized, it is also moving, insightful, compellingly readable, and spooky. Holman’s characters are real and resonant and disturbing in the way that makes fiction great. This novel does everything great fiction should, and it will haunt you for a very long time.”—David Liss, author of The Whiskey Rebels and The Devil’s Company

“Three generations of witches, in a wickedly powerful American epic. An Appalachian conjure woman; a soul-bewildered TV host-vampire; a New York news anchor trying desperately to make peace with the demons pursuing her: the characters are spellbinding and the prose crackles throughout. This is a tale told by a sorceress.”—George Dawes Green

"[An] eerie, often tense read."—Library Journal

Library Journal
This new novel by Holman (Mammoth Cheese) centers on Eddie Alley, raised by his mother in the mountains of rural Virginia during the Depression while his father works away from home. Cora isn't like other mothers—there are rumors that she's a witch. Their isolated life is disrupted when a writer and a photographer working for the WPA arrive in town. They open Eddie's eyes to the wider world, and eventually he leaves Virginia for New York and begins a career in television. Becoming Captain Casket, horror-movie host, he marries and has a daughter, Wallis. When Wallis is 12, the family takes in a troubled teenage boy who unsettles the normalcy of the Alleys and deeply affects Eddie and Wallis. Wallis becomes curious about her mysterious grandmother, and she and Eddie must step back into his strange childhood before they cope with their present. VERDICT Fans of Appalachian fiction and/or novels with supernatural themes should enjoy this eerie, often tense read. [See Prepub Exploded, BookSmack! 9/16/10.]—Shaunna Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll., VA
Kirkus Reviews

Past and present, reality and dreams, harsh truths and dangerous delusions mingle intriguingly in this unusual fourth novel from the versatile author of vivid historical and contemporary fiction (The Mammoth Cheese, 2003, etc.).

In a fragmented set of narratives that move back and forth between Virginia's Appalachian Mountains at the tail end of the Depression and the present day, Holman explores the repercussions of a country boy's relocation to New York City, and the grasp that his past retains, shaping both his own life and those of his chosenandestranged loved ones. When 12-year-old Eddie Alley is accidentally struck by a car and injured, he's thrust into a relationship with visiting WPA writer Tucker Hayes and the latter's wife (and companion photographer) Sonia. An encounter with Eddie's mother Cora, a locally renowned semi-recluse rumored to be a witch, changes Tucker's life forever. And the power of Cora (an Eternal Feminine figure depicted with impressive intensity) follows the others back north. Eddie, whom Tucker had introduced to the bizarre pleasures of classic horror films, finds the big city a welcoming environment and achieves success as a comic TV horror-movie host ("Captain Casket"), marries (Ann) and fathers a daughter (Wallis).But when a homeless teenaged boy (Jasper) enters Eddie's home, and his confused affections, it seems Cora will not be forgotten. Eddie's feelings toward and about his mother remain unresolved. And the witch woman's lingering aura haunts the imaginations and experiences of emotionally unstable Wallis, the eventually abandoned Ann and the sexually baffled Eddie, who will be further burdened by a steadily growing cancer (which is, sadly, much more than a metaphor). Holman tells this eerie tale with considerable skill, but it's flawed by too-numerous time shifts and the discrepancy between the vivid, flinty scenes set in 1940 and later scenes that appear pallid and strained by comparison.

Flawed but intriguing work from an estimable novelist who keeps extending her range and never fails to surprise and engage.

The Barnes & Noble Review

It is 1940, and in rural Virginia a group of children play a game while eight-year-old Eddie Alley watches. "Witches" on one side, "Travelers" on the other, they chant:

How many miles from here to Gal-il-ee?
Three score and ten.
Can I get there by candle light?
Yes, if your legs are long as light.
Watch out!
Mighty bad witches on the road tonight.

When asked if he wants to play, Eddie hesitates, then sighs and asks "Which side am I on?"

This question is at the heart of Sheri Holman's Witches on the Road Tonight. It begins with two travelers, writer Tucker Hayes and photographer Sonia Blakeman, who accidentally hit Eddie with their car. They take the boy to his isolated shack near Panther Gap, and in order to distract him Tucker produces a hand-cranked projector and shows a film, an early, silent version of Frankenstein. It's the first movie Eddie has seen, and it fires something within him. The arrival of Eddie's mother Cora, popularly supposed to be a witch, fires something within Tucker, and a stay which was to last only a few hours stretches into days. The recently drafted Tucker is reluctant to leave, particularly after his night-time trysts with Cora. Are they dreams? Or is she really a witch, and is Tucker under her spell?

In the course of a novel which spans seventy years and alternating viewpoints, we learn that Eddie eventually leaves Virginia, marries Ann -- whose father owns an independent TV station -- and becomes Captain Casket, host of a cheesy, yet fondly remembered, late night movie show specializing in horror films. Ann, longing for a more cosmopolitan life, tolerates the show and her husband's alter ego. Eddie's daughter Wallis is torn between an admiration for Captain Casket and the realization that her father is only too human.

Their charged but apparently stable triangle is transformed by the arrival of Jasper, an orphaned teenager who turns up at the station one day and begins doing odd jobs, idolizes Eddie, and is outraged when he learns that the show is being cancelled and the station sold. He also exposes the divisions, secrets, and jealousies within the family, which come to a head after Eddie flees the surprise party his wife has meticulously planned. He takes Wallis and Jasper to his old home, long since abandoned after the death of Cora. It is here that twelve-year-old Wallis, wise beyond her years, comes to know her dead grandmother for the first time. Wearing Cora's faded clothing, poring over an old herbal, she wonders what happened to Tucker Hayes, who apparently never left Panther Gap. Did Cora kill him, or did he stay there in hiding to avoid the draft? Does Eddie know? Does her father see in Jasper a son, a friend, his younger self, or a potential lover? Is the house at Panther Gap a prison, or a refuge? And is Wallis a traveler, a witch, or both?

These are not the only questions swirling beneath the surface of Holman's clear and thoughtful prose, which also deals with guilt, love, and the possibility of redemption. It's a heavy load for a slim novel, and few of the questions are answered. Instead there are hints and clues, allowing readers to decide for themselves what really happened in Panther Gap in 1940, and whether the witches and ghosts are real or imagined. "People are your ruin or salvation," Cora tells Eddie. What she doesn't say, but which Holman suggests again and again, is that sometimes they can be both.

In The Dress Lodger, set in early nineteenth-century England, Holman demonstrated that she could capture the sights, sounds, and voices of a very different world. Despite the occasional stumble (Eddie, nominally the main character, remains something of a cipher), Witches on the Road Tonight is a similarly rich and rewarding read, elegant and assured.

--Barbara Roden

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455801282
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 1 MP3-CD, 11 hrs. 52 min.
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Sheri Holman

Sheri Holman is the author of A Stolen Tongue; Th e Dress Lodger, a New York
Times Notable Book; and Th e Mammoth Cheese, short-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction and a San Francisco Chronicle and Publishers Weekly Book of the Year.

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    1. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 1, 1966
    2. Place of Birth:
      Richmond, Virginia
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Theatre from the College of William and Mary, 1988

Read an Excerpt

Witches on the Road Tonight

By Sheri Holman

Atlantic Monthly Press

Copyright © 2011 Sheri Holman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1943-8

Chapter One

Panther Gap October 1940

They are playing a game called Firsts that Tucker had made up to pass the time in the car that first week when he and Sonia barely knew each other, in the days before their first time, which should have imparted intimate knowledge, but had, in some indefinable way, made them feel even more like strangers than they were before.

"First word?" Tucker asks.

"My mother tells me it was 'baby,'" Sonia says. "Yours?"

"Tipi. She was our nurse. Been with the family since Mother was a girl."

"First book?" Sonia asks.

"That I remember? Our family Bible. It was big and red and I never saw it open. Yours?"

"Same. Only ours was big and black and open all the time."

It is hot for October and they ride with the windows of the '35 Ford rolled down, blinking against the dust from the ungraded road. The wind whips Sonia's platinum hair across her eyes; she pushes it back to read their Esso map. The paper has given out at the creases from their folding and unfolding of it, and the route is covered in Tucker's notes about churches and courthouses, the populations of cemeteries, the number of oysters shucked in an hour by a single Negro man in Hampton Roads. They are somewhere along the spine of the Blue Ridge, coming into the Alleghenies, as best she can tell.

"First house?" Tucker asks.

"Was not a house," she responds. "It was a fifth floor walk-up on Rivington Street." She doesn't ask him about his first house but he volunteers it anyway.

"Mine was Folly Farm, fifteen miles north of Richmond. Like Tipi, it came with Mother. Of course Father lost it along with everything else. First assignment?" he asks.

"'Gloves Make the Girl.' Ladies' Home Journal, October 1920."

"A piece on shell shock for my college paper. My father was diagnosed in '23, but Mother says he thought he could talk to animals long before he ever set foot in the Marne."

He takes the switchbacks of the mountain fast, choosing dirt roads over anything paved. She is supposed to be logging their mileage but it has been hours since Sonia has seen a marker. She wrestles the map as it flaps in the wind.

"I've lost us," she says.

"Put it away. We should drive as we would divine for water."

"They'll be angry if we get it wrong."

"Oh, how the tourists shall whine," Tucker says. "We're doing them a favor."

Their assignment was to chart a driving tour of this region for the Virginia Writers' Project. Tucker was to describe landmarks and local history; Sonia was to photograph it all. Hundreds more, just like them, were mapping the other forty-seven states, one more public works project like the Civilian Conservation Corps whittling picnic areas on the Skyline Drive. Until now, no one had thought to sell America to Americans. Everyone's sick of the dust bowl and raggedy babies, their field officer in Charlottesville told them. It's time for this country to love itself again.

"Peel me an egg, would you, Mrs. Hayes?" Tucker says. Sonia takes a hard-boiled egg from their paper lunch bag and rolls it between her palms, flicking chips of shell out of the window. Her fingernails are permanently stained black from the chemicals she uses to get the cool, strong contrast she wants in her work. She holds out the egg for Tucker to bite.

"I've been proposing all my life," he says, grabbing her hand and kissing each black nail. "There was Cousin Flora of the skinned knees and slipped hair ribbons. Cruel Bette, who broke my heart with her Matryoshka-doll figure and diminishing affections to match. But at last I've found the ideal wife, who forsakes the common obsession with matrimony for the more sacred institution of honeymoon."

He bites the egg in half. "And she cooks, too!"

Sonia smiles and eats what's left over.

The car has drifted and Tucker corrects the wheel, hugging the narrow shoulder nearest the rock. On Sonia's side, the mountain drops away beneath a wide case-hardened sky. Lifting the Rolleiflex she wears on a strap around her neck, she points it out of her open window. She is notorious at Wealth magazine, where she works, for wasting film. Some of her colleagues say she doesn't trust herself and so takes ten shots for every one she keeps; some say she's voracious in the moment and her pictures are the photographic equivalent of owl pellets, just the bones and feathers of an experience. She doesn't care what they think—she's shot more covers than any of the men. Tucker fixes his attention on the hazy ridgeline.

"First love?" he asks.

They have been sleeping as man and wife since the third week of their assignment. It took him longer than most of the writers she's traveled with. With the others, after a few days, two rooms were awfully expensive, weren't they? We could sure save a buck if we were modern enough to share. They'd buy the tin rings at Woolworth's and sign the register Mr. and Mrs., then over cigarettes and whatever bottle they could get cheap, they'd stay up late talking until at last his head would end up in her lap. God, you are so gorgeous. Why hasn't some man made an honest woman out of you? What a beautiful mother you'd make. His finger would trace her calf and she would close her eyes at his idea of a compliment, remembering the sunken-eyed schoolboy in Berlin staring down at the kitten he'd finished off with a brick, or the little girl from Rivington Street, her first printing failure, who had emerged from the stop bath so poorly contrasted she was barely distinguishable from the tenement rubble behind her.

With Tucker it had not been words or whiskey offered up as seduction but, instead, a movie, projected on the cinderblock wall of a roadside motel in Harpers Ferry. For their six-week trip he had packed, along with his notebooks and clothes, a hand-cranked Pathé iron projector that had belonged to his father, and every night he showed her films, odd bits and pieces he'd collected, old Edison shorts, newsreels of famine, and scenes of the war in Europe. She sat in the crook of his arm as he cranked the handle, the bulb flickering to life and the dim blue picture jittery against the wall. He chose a newsreel piece on the work of Käthe Kollwitz, whose etchings of mothers cradling their starving children Hitler had labeled as degenerate. I love these old films, he said. We have a hand in the speed of creation. Then, without breaking cadence, he leaned down and placed his mouth on hers. With his free hand he untucked her shirt and eased his palm along her ribs to the curve of her breast. His mouth moved down her throat, over her pillowed stomach then farther, never breaking rhythm, and she continued to watch—the children reaching up, wordlessly crying out for bread, mothers hunkered over dying sons—until the film spun through and battered against the reel. Could you ever love a wretched sinner like me? he whispered, covering her with himself. But none of these men knew the first thing about sinning, Sonia thought, they only desperately wished to, as they wished to know all the dark rooms of the world.

"First love?" she repeats, her camera trained out the window. "Why you, of course."

She knows Tucker is Southern before he opens his mouth, by the way he spends the evening saying good-bye without ever leaving. He is already at the door when she arrives at Bennett's party, pressed in on all sides by the actors and antique dealers and men Bennett meets in bus lines. Tucker stands with his jacket over his arm, his eyes cast down, nodding as the woman next to him shouts close to his ear. Normally, Sonia isn't attracted to blond men, there is something pink and infantile about them, and their light eyes are always watering, but Tucker is blond like sandstone, softly eroded and a little abrasive. He wears a beige linen suit in a room full of black and brown jackets, and he slouches with his hands thrust deep in his pockets. The woman finishes talking and he speaks a few words in reply and kisses her on the cheek, moving even closer to the door, where another woman grabs him by the arm and draws her own concentrated nods. Bennett catches her watching them. There's a lucky bastard, he shouts over Artie Shaw on the record player. His play fl opped on Broadway so he signed on with the WPA back home. Now he's gotten drafted. He'll be swimming in peach till the day he leaves. Tucker takes his hands from his pockets and holds them palm up for the second woman as if to say, See, there is nothing left. No man is so appealing, Sonia thinks, as one who apologizes for himself in advance. Then, Speech, speech, someone shouts and he lets himself be pulled back into the room and passed a fresh drink, and he is convinced to drawl a little drunkenly, God bless this country where a man might so easily be transferred from one teat of Lady Liberty to another. Much later, when Sonia goes to retrieve her scarf and purse, she finds him drinking alone on their host's bed, staring out the window onto Washington Square Park below. The cars race up Fifth Avenue and turn sharply when they reach the white triumphal arch. In the glass above him she catches a glimpse of her own tired face, she has talked and drunk away all but a red smudge of her lipstick. She takes a seat on the bed beside him and they sit in comfortable silence for such a long time that Sonia thinks she just might be asleep. But then he catches her off guard. What scares you? he asks, and she answers without thought, The Nazis have taken Paris, London is flattened. I'm scared everything exciting is happening somewhere else. She pauses and asks what is expected—What scares you?—knowing before he even suggests it that she will be leaving with him. Dying, he says. And women like you.

"Mrs. Hayes," Tucker commands.


"I spy with my little eye—Sider and Apples Sold by the Pound, Bushel, or Truckload."

They are cresting a hill and Sonia doesn't have time to read the misspelled, hand-painted sign before they have reached a clearing and a slapped-together wooden stand. The structure's sloping roof is shingled with apple slices drying in the sun and behind it sits an elderly man working a mechanical peeler like a pencil sharpener. He shakes his denim jacket free of skins when Tucker excuses the car to a stop.

"Look at that ancient specimen," Tucker says to her as the man ducks beneath the shed's awning and rises to his full height. "We could saw him in half and count his rings."

Tucker and Sonia sit in the front seat letting the old man appraise them through the windshield. He has a fifth-button white beard that Sonia guesses he's been growing longer than she's been alive. He has halved his Model T and fitted it with a flatbed. On it, wooden crates of more apples are stacked three high.

"We need one of him," Tucker says.

Tucker swings open the car door as Sonia adjusts the aperture of her camera. There's good light and a panoramic view of the valley, and she thinks, yes, Tucker is right, this is what they want to see of this place, a roadside Sider Man with his apples and his time. She watches Tucker approach him, loose-limbed and casual, holding out his hand as if for a wary dog to sniff. The Sider Man shakes it stiffly.

"Mighty fine fruit you have here," Tucker says, picking up a dull green apple from a basket at his feet.

"Mountain pippins what's ripe now," says the old man. "A few Fousts."

"Some venerable orchards up this way, I'd imagine."

"Yup," says the old man, eying Sonia, who has found her settings and stepped out of the car to join them. He traces her figure through her linen shirt and plum-colored trousers. Then his eyes go to the dark roots of her platinum hair and linger disapprovingly.

"Where I grew up," Tucker is saying, "we had an Apple Blossom Festival. Y'all have anything like that up here?"

"In the spring."

"I love those festivals," Tucker says. "Pride of place."

The Sider Man nods. His face is deeply lined from sun and tobacco. He rocks back on his cracked naked heels and waits for Tucker to get to the point. Sonia wants to get the truck in the shot, too, and circles around him, looking for her angle.

"Y'all just passing through?" the Sider Man asks at last.

"Me and the missus are out and about on behalf of Mr. Roosevelt," Tucker says. "Works Progress Administration. They're writing up travel guides to the forty-eight states to give artist types like us something to do. We're on good terms with the battles and business of this commonwealth, but they want us to send back some flavor. You know, stories, legends, anything that makes this mountain special."

The Sider Man stares at him blankly.

"I don't suppose you know any legends?"

"Can't say I do," the Sider Man answers.

"What about local features?" Tucker asks kindly. "Caves or springs? Twice a year when I was a boy, we'd drive these mountains so my father could sit in the hot springs. Met veterans who fought at Bull Run."

Sonia can see him casting around for that thing they share. Tucker is always able to find something, she's seen him get lumbermen and merchant marines, cigarette rollers and seamstresses to talk for hours. But the Sider Man stands mute.

"Now's your chance," Tucker says bluffly. "You're going in a guide book. People will drive from all over to find you, and you'll be selling apples faster than you can pick 'em. My wife here will even take your picture."

Sonia smiles politely. "It would be an honor," she says.

The Sider Man turns back to his stand. "WPA took my photograph years ago. Some Jew from New York City. You vampires gonna come back for a man's soul, you might buy something first."

They are back in the car with a bushel of pippins and a jug of applejack between them. The Sider Man fits another apple to his peeler, unwinds his long russet ribbon. Sonia turns in the front seat to steal a shot as they pull away.

"Don't," says Tucker gruffly. "You can't take a picture of rejection without deserving it."

The stand is gone, they are headed down the other side of the mountain through a granite pass. Laurel bushes cling to the cliff while rain-swelled springs flow in channels beside the road like running boards on a car. In a month, this way will be impassable, she thinks. Tucker is taking the turns too fast; three empty Coke bottles roll lazily across the floorboards and clink together, back and forth down the hill.

Using one hand to drive, he uncorks the applejack with his teeth and takes a deep draw.

"First lie?" he asks.

"I don't lie," she answers.

"I asked for your first, not an example," he says.

Sonia turns away in annoyance. She has been told no so often she doesn't hear the word anymore. Someone has always arrived before her wherever she's been and she has learned simply to shoot from a different angle.

"He's right, you know," Tucker says. "Who are we to turn a person's life into a stop along the way?"

His hands are trembling lightly on the steering wheel, his face rudderless and resigned, just as it was the night of Bennett's party, as he watched the cars along Fifth Avenue. As if the trip out here is more than the trip inside, and the forward motion alone might prove him courageous. She knows because her body becomes the journey as much as anything else, the unfolded map upon which all of these men lose and refind themselves. They speak of marriage and wanting to give her a child to show that this is real and she plays along, going so far as to give their imaginary child a name, calling him Pa when he calls her Ma, feeding each other waffles in the brown and olive crypts of one-star hotel dining rooms. Then, later, with quiescent Juliette or Angela or Veronica (they always want a girl, these men) sanctifying the union, he is free to fold her legs up to her ears and weep away his guilt on her breasts, telling her how beautiful they will look swollen with milk. It's the same thing, she thinks. Before. After they just have to somehow make it okay. All these men with their hats in their hands and their pained, expectant faces.

"Stop the car," she says with enough force that he obeys her. He stops on a blind curve, parking the Ford as close to the cliff as he dares. Below them on the other side, a gorge of grapevine and waxy rhododendron spills down to white water. Sonia picks up her Rolleiflex and steps out, slipping down the embankment.


Excerpted from Witches on the Road Tonight by Sheri Holman Copyright © 2011 by Sheri Holman. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Monthly Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 23, 2011

    Successful on every level- read, enjoy, and learn.

    There are several good reasons to read Witches on the Road Tonight. Sheri Holman is an imaginative writer; her stories take unexpected turns that captivate the reader. As with her previous works, careful research gives a ring of authenticity to this book. Read Witches on the Road Tonight initially for a first rate story, in which the incredible becomes credible. Contemplate the aura of fear that has invaded our culture. Then reread this novel for a master class in the art of writing. Holman's use of language creates indelible images- a moving picture in your mind. Every phrase-each word- has a purpose. Few contemporary authors equal her skill. If your book club entertains serious discussions, this would be a wise pick.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 5, 2011

    Blood Will Tell

    Some people avoid digging into the past, thinking it's over and irrelevant and hardly matters in the present day. After all, the present is hard enough to get through. But those who came before us--lives lived before our own--inform our present and have passed down legacies that continue to haunt the lives we live.

    Sheri Holman has done the digging for us, with a dark, beautifully realized Witches on the Road Tonight. Holman peels back the curtain from three generations of one family's secrets and lays bare the fears that keep them on the run. From the flickering images of a silent film projected on an Appalachian cabin wall to the nonstop fear-mongering of cable news, the Alley family is haunted by the dark spirits that chase you down in the darkness. Holman's story is addictive and her prose often magical.

    This is an altogether different experience than the previous Sheri Holman book I've read (The Dress Lodger), but her gift for creating vivid atmosphere and eye for detail remain captivating. Highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2012

    Beautifully written novel about the constant power of the past,

    Beautifully written novel about the constant power of the past, and the emotional harm that family members wreak on each other.

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  • Posted May 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Not as good as the Dress Lodger

    I loved this author's first book the Dress Lodger and still remember the details of the book because it was a wonderful read. This book bored me, it all seemed so pointless and never went anywhere. I had to read the overview at one point so I could figure out why the story did a complete turnaround in characters. I wasn't able to finish it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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