Monday, February 7, 2011

REVIEW: THE DIVINER'S TALE by Bradford Morrow


To be blunt, I couldn't put this book down.  I was up until the wee hours last night, determined to finish it, lest my dreams be infiltrated by the specters of this book.  
Author Morrow remains on the better side of a fine line between psychological fear and shock tactics.  He relies on unexpected appearances alongside stellar imagery for breathtaking moments.  Truthfully, the book is much scarier that way as we view the actions through a first person narrator.  Cassandra (aptly named) Brooks is a diviner, a dowser.  She comes from a long line of "witches" who have helped countless generations find water for wells.  

Victorian era dowsing

Yet her sensitivities go beyond finding water - she will often have cryptic notions of impending doom.  Her brother died all too young, despite her warning - a weight she has never managed to shrug entirely.  Now a mother, she struggles with the demons of her past and tries to determine her own path forward. 
This is not, however, a Lifetime movie waiting to happen (though it would make a great feature film, in the right hands).  Sympathetic though she is, she is no pushover.  Insistent on pursuing the answer to the visions she has had, she negotiates the pitfalls of ridicule, and her own past.  At it's heart, it is a ghost story.  And Morrow's delicious descriptions make it palpable.  

Author photograph
Furthermore, his choice of the metaphor of dowsing is neither overused or trite.  He treats it as another character, waiting in the background for its turn to speak.  Initially a skeptic himself, he discovered dowsing when a plumber recommended one for some home repair.  It became a jumping off point for the novel, but also a window into another way of thinking, believing.  Unlike other leaps of faith, one has only to dig to find out if the diviner tells the truth.  This, and other considerations of reality versus perception, pepper the book.  They serve to layer a light fog over clarity, and add to the mystery only revealed in the final pages.  A little bit Shirley Jackson, a bit Joyce Carol Oates, a touch of Du Maurier (all females, ironically), and a great deal of original vision, The Diviner's Tale deserves a place on any well-wrought mystery lover's shelf. 
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Many thanks to the folks at HMH Books for the review copy.

Me and my cat enjoying the book.


ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547382630 ; $26.00
ISBN-10: 0547382634
Hardcover ; 320 pages
Publication Date: 01/20/2011
Trim Size: 6.00 x 9.00                          

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for your insightful thoughts about my book, for your amazing photograph of that Victorian woman dowsing across a lawn (great hat!), and most of all for the shot of you and your beautiful kitty reading the book together. Brad Morrow

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  2. Meaghan Walsh GerardFebruary 8, 2011 at 7:51 PM

    Brad,
    My pleasure! I truly enjoyed the book. Not to mention, it spoke to my own curiosity surrounding dowsing. My aunt witched our yard when we bought our first house. She found not only water lines, but foundations of another structure that used to be on the property, including doorway and window placements. Back home she also works for cemeteries, helping identify graves that are unmarked. I don't pretend to understand it, but she's always right!

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  3. That's interesting about your aunt. I was out in Red Cloud, Nebraska a couple of years ago, where my grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents are buried near Willa Cather's family and friends (I was doing research on a lecture I gave on Cather) and the sister of the president of the Willa Cather Foundation dowsed my grandparents' plot and found that one of the graves was empty. This turns out to be the case. All so interesting.

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  4. You write really wonderful reviews - they are so much more than a synopsis or a rating or a gushing 'I loved it' - you give good reasons why I should or shouldn't read a book. Diviner's Tale looks really great - It's going on my book list. Thanks, and keep posting those reviews!

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  5. Many thanks. And thank you for reading!

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  6. That's interesting about your aunt. I was out in Red Cloud, Nebraska a couple of years ago, where my grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents are buried near Willa Cather's family and friends (I was doing research on a lecture I gave on Cather) and the sister of the president of the Willa Cather Foundation dowsed my grandparents' plot and found that one of the graves was empty. This turns out to be the case. All so interesting.

    ReplyDelete