This is a haunting book. Coffey has the uncanny ability of bringing the spiritual to bear on the physical lives of the characters he creates.
I first became aware of “thin places” reading about the Irish. Such places are those where the curtain between the spiritual and the physical is thin.
In one sense this entire book is a thin place. The curtain is thin as Coffey has woven a story showing how the personal deeds done in the past impact lives in the present. Yet there is also an actual thin place in Happy Hollow, where Taylor lives. Taylor who feels called to bring people “Awake.” A deadly calling.
Jake is the sheriff of Mattingly. It is his job to solve the murder at the BP. But he himself is plagued by dreams of a youthful experience and a young man's death. And his wife Kate - she “helps” people, giving toys, clothes, or groceries. Her burden, she calls it. She writes down their names in a note book. Hundreds of pages of names. Perhaps all those names will one day outweigh the name of that one boy she killed all those years ago.
A major theme through this novel is how we deal with a painful event of the past. Do we suppress it? Do we try to atone for it? Do we create a twisted rationalization of it?
Taylor chose rationalization and becomes twisted by his own version of reality. Jake tries to bury it but is tormented by the horrible dreams, reliving that day.
Kate chose penance. Can we ever do enough good to pay for what we've done in the past? Even though Jake and Kate attend church regularly, they both feel they have to somehow pay for their sins. But you can't undo what's been done. Even though Kate at one point says she begged for and received God's forgiveness, she did not feel the scales were even. Some ghosts never seem to go away.
As an aside to the actual story, I liked the interplay of dreaming and being awake. The hermit Taylor is convinced others in the world are living in a dream. Only he is awake and is called to awaken others. Sheriff Jake lives in the present world in which he has hidden his past but through his dreams relives that past. Kate wonders if anyone can talk themselves out of a dream (if so, she believed Jake would have done it years ago). Who is living in reality and who is living the dream?
Not only is this a captivating novel but it also gives the reader much to think about. I know this is a novel I'll be thinking about for some time. There is a discussion guide included that has some penetrating questions. This book would be an excellent choice for a reading group.
I am taking part in a blog tour of this book. You can read other reviews here.
Billy Coffey is an author who combines Southern culture with a vision far beyond the ordinary. He and his family live in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. You can find out more at www.billycoffey.com.
Thomas Nelson, 389 pages. You can purchase a copy of the book here.
I received a complimentary egalley of this book through the Litfuse Publicity Group for the purpose of this independent and honest review.