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by Elizabeth Hand
Mulholland, July 2022
400 pages
ISBN: 0316542040

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Elizabeth Hand transports us to a place that is so incredibly beautiful that I wanted to be there in spite of its creepiness. Her writing about the nature surrounding Grady Kendall, an import from the mainland in the early days of Covid, is just truly astounding. As far as Grady goes, Hand's writing is not so much characterization as it is immersion. The book is told from Grady's point of view, and we see, smell, hear, and feel his disorientation as he encounters the fantastical in both its tangible and intangible forms.

There's a mystery here; people are going missing on the island and one of them is the new friend Brady made on the plane as he traveled to Hawaii. Grady doesn't give up on finding her, and it is this stubbornness that takes him on a days-long hike through the untouched and sacred wilderness and gives Hand free-rein to exercise her descriptive skills as Grady encounters everything from harsh landscape scoured by lava to extraordinary swarms of intricately colored butterflies.

All that Grady encounters on the island is not visually astounding nature, however. There's some sort of spiritual force at work, one that is hugely creepy and frightening. At first Grady is not sure that what he's experiencing is even real and later is not sure if it's out to get him or out to help him. His experience of this elusive being is not made any clearer by the local Hawaiians' refusal to talk about it. The scenes where Grady and whatever this thing is encounter each other are eerie and truly frightening. I'm not sure whether they move the narrative from spiritual to horror; the book teeters on that edge at some points.

Because of the approach Hand takes to Grady's characterization, his motivation is unclear at times. It's almost as if he's so bewildered at what he's experiencing that he's unsure of what's driving him. Since we live in his mind through this experience, we are also unsure. Secondary characters are not fully realized either; however, some show signs of nuance. This is the main drawback to the book, but it is so overshadowed by the evocative writing that I almost cannot fault Hand for it. I had not previously read this author, but now I will need to go investigate her other books.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in Arizona.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, July 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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