Publication Date: Mar 17, 2015
List Price US $17.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
List Price US $24.95
Set in a small coal-mining town, a debut novel full of secrets, love, betrayal, and suspicious accidents, where Catholicism casts a long shadow and two courageous women make choices that will challenge our own moral convictions
One morning in Verra, a town nestled into the hillsides of West Virginia, the young Myrthen Bergmann is playing tug-of-war with her twin, when her sister is killed. Unable to accept her own guilt, Myrthen excludes herself from all forms of friendship and affection and begins a twisted, haunted life dedicated to God. Meanwhile, her neighbor Alta Krol longs to be an artist even as her days are taken up caring for her widowed father and siblings. Everything changes when Myrthen marries the man Alta loves. Fourteen years later, we meet Lidia, a teenage girl in the same town, and her precocious son, Gabriel. When Gabriel starts telling eerily prescient stories that hint at Verra’s long-buried secrets, it’s not long before the townspeople begin to suspect that the boy harbors evil spirits—an irresistible state of affairs for Myrthen and her obsession with salvation.
Excerpt from Whisper Hollow
Myrthen looked down, seeing only what the lightning allowed—her mother, rocking her limp twin. She looked like she did when Ruth couldn’t fall easily asleep. Outside, the thunder gnashed and roared. Ruth was scared of thunder. Yes, she didn’t like the thunder or the rain or the dark. Mama was comforting her because she was scared, and she should go down and get her doll and give it to Ruth because it would make her feel better, wouldn’t it Ruth? It was so dark outside, shepherds take warning, it was probably almost bedtime and she wasn’t hungry so she must have eaten and it was probably time to go to sleep.
“Mama, I’ll get our bed ready,” Myrthen called quietly down to her mother, who was still rocking, rocking with knees bleeding into the spill of blood where Ruth had fallen. Ruth looked so tired, they were both so very very tired, and Myrthen thought she should go and get their bed ready before it was past their bedtime and she heard the door begin to open—Papa’s home—and she didn’t want to be caught up late, it was so dark and Ruth was already fast asleep, so she ran, quickly, quietly to their room and pulled back the covers and climbed inside, and moved all the way to the wall so that Ruth would have enough room when her mother brought her sleeping body in.
She closed her eyes and promised God that when her mother finished her doll that night after the canning was done, she would give it and all the buttons to Ruthie.
“[A] sweeping novel…Cander divinely delves into multiple points of view, crafting a collage of vibrant, layered characters while charting six decades of poignant, precise moments. A distinctive novel that sublimely measures the distressed though determined heartbeat of a small mountain community.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[Chris Cander] admirably captures the lack of choice that men and women have in rural West Virginia.” —Publishers Weekly
“Cander superbly envisions [Verra], the town, its residents’ dynamics, and the early twentieth-century immigrant experience. Alta and Lidia [are] well-developed, believable characters whose mental fortitude and capacity to love linger in the reader’s mind long after the last page.” —Booklist
“Whisper Hollow is wonderful. It’s carefully written, unpredictable, sexy when it should be and scary when it has to be…[C]hannels Faulkner…[R]eminiscent of D.H. Lawrence.” —The Houston Chronicle
“[Chris] Cander weaves together the stories of varied characters across nearly five decades with skill and grace…[A] memorable novel about the bonds of town and family, the strength of friendships in unlikely places and the power of secrets to shape a life—or many lives—often without anyone even recognizing it.” —Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“So masterfully controlled is the pace and tone of Whisper Hollow that you can swing a pickax without hitting any impurities. Rhythmic and beautiful, Whisper Hollow collides Old Testament with sooty coal town Americana in steady harmony.” —Austin American-Statesman
“[Whisper Hollow] is an exploration of well-realized characters, their motivations and their responses to circumstances, written with a literary bent.” —The Asheville Citizen-Times
“Whisper Hollow is a haunting novel about the malleability of memory, about secrets and trickery, and about saints who are sinners and sinners who are saints. Cander paints a colorful portrait of a multi-ethnic, multi-generational West Virginia coal camp: a heaven of opportunity to some, a hell of stunted choices to others.” —Marie Manilla, author of The Patron Saint of Ugly
“Like D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, Chris Cander’s beautiful novel, Whisper Hollow, is about love that finds its object, and love that misses its mark and becomes destructive, in a community of coal miners. The story’s locale is one where love (for God,or others) is blocked or displaced until that moment when it can finally express itself, in a setting where work itself may be deadly and time may always run out. Chris Cander’s understanding of men and women is profound, and the scenes in this wonderful book will stay with you like a visionary experience.” —Charles Baxter, author of Gryphon: New and Selected Stories
“The men in Chris Cander’s Whisper Hollow toil underground, in the dark and dangerous coal mines of West Virginia. But her women mine territory twice as dark and twice as dangerous, they mine the human heart. Love and loss, devotion and longing, hope and despair, Cander renders all of this and more through the lives of three women spanning more than fifty years. Here is a novel so full of life—of its beauty and cruelty—that I emerged from it like one of those men walking from mines she so wonderfully evokes, like a man walking from the darkness into the light.” —Peter Geye, author of The Lighthouse Road
“Cander writes with tremendous power and originality. Whisper Hollow grabs the reader with an immediacy that does not let go: this novel is inspired, haunting and heartbreakingly beautiful.” —David Eagleman, author of Incognito and SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
“Sometimes fiction is so good, so authentic, and the storyteller so convincing, that it just feels true. Whisper Hollow is one of those books. I’m blown away, honestly. Chris Cander has created characters with immortal souls.” —Jamie Ford, New York Times best-selling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
“With memorable characters and a haunting setting, Chris Cander weaves a compelling tale of the transformative power of love in the face of buried truths that threaten literally to explode.” —Ann-Marie MacDonald, author of Adult Onset
“What a great cast of female characters! Set in a West Virginia mining town, Whisper Hollow explores the complex lives of three very different women: Myrthen harbors a cold heart behind a face of piety, Alta is torn between duty to her family and the man she truly loves, and Lidia is a loving young mother who harbors a dark secret. When town scandals that are buried as deep as the mines threaten to come to light, each woman must test her courage. This riveting story with an explosive ending makes for an ‘unputdownable’ read, and a great novel for book clubs to discuss.” —Pamela Klinger-Horn, Magers & Quinn (Minneapolis, MN)
“Chris Cander’s debut novel is a multi-generational epic about religion and obsession in a West Virginia coal mining town. A terrible moment in 1916 echoes across decades, shaping the way an entire community understands good and evil. Beautiful prose and unique, well drawn characters make Whisper Hollow one of the most auspicious debuts of the season.” —Jeremy Ellis, Brazos Bookstore (Houston, TX)
“Oh, the secrets in Verra, West Virginia run deep and deadly. This multi-generational saga of families holds love, sorrow, and religion up to a mirror and then turns on itself. Myrthen loses her twin sister at a very early age and spends the rest of her life trying to atone for the accident. Alta loves and loses. Lidia has a secret that is causing her nightmares. Set in treacherous coal mining country, this novel will be perfect for bookclubs.” —Valerie Koehler, Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston, TX)
“Chris Cander’s engaging family saga explores hidden secrets, betrayals and moral dilemmas. The small West Virginia coal town is so richly drawn, it becomes a character in itself. This is a book that stays with you and would be a great book club pick!” —Maxwell Gregory, Lake Forest Book Store (Lake Forest, IL)
1. Describe Alta’s relationships with the various men in her life. How are these relationships similar? How are they different? How do they help shape Alta’s life?
2. How is family depicted in the novel? Is a traditional family something to aspire to, or something to be avoided? Compare what role family serves in the miners’ lives (see page 54) to what John Esposito experiences in his marriage to Myrthen Bergmann. Does Alta find happiness within her family or outside of it?
3. What is the significance of Whisper Hollow for Myrthen? For John and Alta? For Lidia? Why do you think the novel is named after Whisper Hollow, and not the town in which the characters live, Verra?
4. On page 307 Alta says, “Whatever truth it is you’re talking about, what good would it do anyone to know it? . . . People learn to live with their own versions of the truth.” Lidia wonders if we shouldn’t “always be honest.” Who do you think is right? At the end of the novel is it truth or “[people’s] own versions of the truth” that triumphs?
5. How does Myrthen shape the lives of the people in Verra? Do you think she’s the antagonist of the novel? Do you ever feel pity for her?
6. What role does religion play in Myrthen’s life? On page 205 the narrator tells us, “She had prayed very hard, bruised her knees and squeezed her eyes so intently until she no longer saw or even thought of the periphery of her actions.” How does she use religion to deal with guilt?
7. Describe the difference between the guilt that Alta, Myrthen, Lidia, and Stanley feel. What role does confession play in alleviating their guilt? In the novel, is it secular confession or religious confession that offers the most redemption?
8. Myrthen, John, Alta, and Lidia all sometimes feel isolated in Verra. In the novel, what works against isolation?