The latest from Hobson (Deep Ellum) is a smart, dark novel of adolescence, death, and rural secrets set in late-1980s Oklahoma. After his mother is jailed for drug charges, 15-year-old Sequoyah becomes the foster child of Harold and Agnes Troutt, a middle-aged couple already fostering 13-year-old George and 17-year-old Rosemary. Sequoyah shares a bedroom with the quirky George, who sleepwalks and sometimes communicates via handwritten notes, and bonds with Rosemary over their shared Native American heritages—he is Cherokee, she Kiowa. As the pair grows close, Sequoyah falls for Rosemary’s charm and fantasizes about both hurting and becoming his foster sister (“We shared no physical attraction but something else, something deeper. I saw myself in her.”), who has a history of self-harm. Sequoyah also learns of Harold’s illegal sports bookie business from his foster siblings, and the lure of Harold’s hidden sacks of rolled hundred-dollar bills, tucked safely in a backyard shed, tempt all three children with the possibility for trouble, excess, and freedom, which drives the novel’s second half. Hobson’s narrative control is stunning, carrying the reader through scenes and timelines with verbal grace and sparse detail. Far more than a mere coming-of-age story, this is a remarkable and moving novel. (Feb.)
Finalist for the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2018
Longlisted for the 2019 Aspen Words Literary Prize
Praise for Where the Dead Sit Talking
"A strange and powerful Native American Bildungsroman . . . this novel breathes with a dark, pulsing life of its own."
—The Tulsa Voice
—Dallas Morning News
"This is a dark story that depicts the loneliness and pain of unwanted children and the foster care system where they end up . . . authentic and humane."
"A powerful testament to one young Native American’s will to survive his lonely existence. Sequoyah’s community and experience is one we all need to know, and Hobson delivers the young man’s story in a deeply profound narrative."
—KMUW Wichita Public Radio
"Imagine a plot hybrid of Dickens and George Saunders."
—The Brooklyn Rail
"Dreamlike prose . . . Where the Dead Sit Talking is an exploration of whether it’s possible for a person to heal when all the world sees is a battlefield of scars."
—San Diego CityBeat
"The latest from Hobson is a smart, dark novel of adolescence, death, and rural secrets set in late-1980s Oklahoma. Hobson’s narrative control is stunning, carrying the reader through scenes and timelines with verbal grace and sparse detail. Far more than a mere coming-of-age story, this is a remarkable and moving novel."
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"A masterly tale of life and death, hopes and fears, secrets and lies."
—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
"Hobson's eloquent prose and story line will keep literary and general fiction readers turning pages. Its teen protagonists offer interest for young adults."
"[A] poignant and disturbing coming-of-age story . . . Hobson presents a painfully visceral drama about the overlooked lives of those struggling on the periphery of mainstream society."
"Hobson's gift to the reader is the hopeful persistence he instills in Sequoyah, despite his challenges with identity and belonging. He is a young man who is clearly scarred but thankfully not defeated."
"In Where the Dead Sit Talking, Hobson is once again in fine form, delivering a lyrical, somewhat brutal, and very touching coming of age story set in rural Oklahoma in the late 1980s. At once elegant and straightforward, poetic and cold in a way that approximates noir . . . a beautifully written novel."
—Vol. 1 Brooklyn
"Intriguing . . . Hobson has written here a dark and arresting tale."
“Where the Dead Sit Talking is a sensitive and searching exploration of a youth forged in turbulence, in the endless aftermath of displacement and loss. Sequoyah’s voice is powerfully singular—both wounded and wounding—and this novel is a thrilling confirmation of Brandon Hobson’s immense gifts on the page.”
—Laura van den Berg, author of Find Me
"Weird and intimate, like Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen, Where the Dead Sit Talking takes us to a strange, dangerous place normally kept hidden. From the opening hook, with the unhurried authority of a master, Brandon Hobson initiates the reader into the secret lives of lost and unwanted teenagers trying to survive in an uncaring world. Creepy, sad, yet queerly thrilling."
—Stewart O'Nan, author of The Speed Queen
"Where the Dead Sit Talking is a tender and unflinching look at shell-shocked young lives as they try in the eddies of foster care to keep their heads above water. Hobson writes with a humane authority but without giving his characters any alibis. What we have instead is a careful look at what it means to be physically and psychically scarred, abandoned by parents, Native American in a white world, haunted by death, and on the verge of becoming an adult. A wonderful, harrowing novel."
—Brian Evenson, author of The Open Curtain
"I fear and ferociously admire everything Brandon Hobson creates. He is the only person who can describe the way an object becomes whole when we have enough time to look at it or the presence of a loved one in the air even after she is gone. In this heartbreaking and vital novel there is an unconfessable world of pain, desire, and longing. A careful oscillating dance around avoiding the pangs of abandonment and wanting to go through them all at once to get the suffering over with. Sequoyah, his scars, and eye makeup will leave you with wide eyes and a brimming heart."
—Chiara Barzini, author of Things That Happened Before the Earthquake
"One of those novels that comes around rarely in Native American letters, one that quietly changes everything."
Praise for Brandon Hobson
“Restrained, dark, and strangely silent . . . If you've ever had a homecoming laced with sadness and longing, you'll relate to [Deep Ellum].”
—Ottessa Moshfegh, New York Times bestselling author of Homesick for Another World
“[Deep Ellum] stands out as a miniature masterpiece of mood.”
—San Diego City Beat
“Hobson has a remarkable ability to travel deep into a very dark place and come out plausibly on the side of light.”
—Dawn Raffel, Reader’s Digest
“Hobson writes novels that are very bright and incredibly dark, surprisingly funny and wonderfully complex.”
—Vol. 1 Brooklyn
“With Deep Ellum, Hobson establishes a city that is as lively as Twin Peaks, a Walden that offers little peace, no meditation, a reversal of transcendentalism.”
A man looks back on 1989, the year he was 15, when he was living in a foster home and a girl who was also living there died in front of him.
That's no spoiler: Sequoyah tells us about Rosemary's death within three sentences of the start of his tale. "I have been unhappy for many years now," he begins, then tells the story of how his mother went to jail on a drug charge and, after a stint at a shelter, he wound up living with the Troutts, Harold and Agnes, and their two other foster kids, the eccentric George, 13, who was prone to sleepwalking, and 17-year-old Rosemary, who shared Sequoyah's Native American heritage and liked to talk about death. They lived in rural Oklahoma, and the quiet suited them all; the Troutts were kind people, and everyone in the house liked to be by themselves a lot, with Agnes going for drives, Harold napping in the basement where he surprisingly ran an illegal bookie shop, George lying on his bed meditating, and Rosemary heading to the woods with a drawing pad. Sequoyah used to get in trouble at the shelter for slipping out at night to take walks, so he fit right into this house full of secrets and relative freedom. Hobson (Desolation of Avenues Untold, 2015, etc.) writes in a spare, even tone, and no matter what Sequoyah says—even when it's about feeling dead inside, or about wanting to hurt someone—the reader is with him, empathizing. As in a Shirley Jackson story, everything seems perfectly ordinary until it doesn't. "Why did the entire town seem to have the same strange habits?" Sequoyah wonders. Hobson is in masterly control of his material, letting Sequoyah relax into the welcoming Troutt family home while glimpsing the menace behind the curtain. Or is the menace just inside him?
A masterly tale of life and death, hopes and fears, secrets and lies.
Pushcart Prize winner Hobson's (Desolation of Avenues Untold) latest is a coming-of-age story set in rural Oklahoma in 1989. The story is recalled by Sequoya, a 15-year-old Cherokee who had a difficult childhood. With his mother in jail, he moves in with Harold and Agnes Troutt and their two other foster children, George, a 13-year-old aspiring novelist, and Rosemary, a 17-year-old fellow Native American and artist with her own unpleasant past. As Sequoya tries to adjust to his new surroundings, he and Rosemary bond as they share their troubled histories, darkest secrets, and premonitions about the future. Readers are told early on that Rosemary has died but are left in the dark as to the cause until the end. Hobson's grim portrait of rural America is filled with unsavory characters who attempt to derail Sequoya's adolescence, as well as those pushing to get him through. VERDICT Though the characters could have been more compellingly drawn and the conclusion is somewhat anticlimactic, Hobson's eloquent prose and story line will keep literary and general fiction readers turning the pages. Its teen protagonists offer interest for young adults. [See Prepub Alert, 8/21/17.]—David Miller, Farmville P.L. Admin. NC