Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for the chance to read and review this novel.
Gods of Howl Mountain has a lot of things going for it. I was drawn to this unique and beautiful cover, the Southern setting, and the subject matter. One of my best-loved movies is Lawless, featuring Tom Hardy and Shia Labeouf. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the movie, the plot is centered around a bootlegging band of brothers and their attempts to evade the Law. The movie portrayed the gritty feel of Southern culture perfectly, much like this novel. The true essence of the culture was captured by Taylor Brown in the unique and oftentimes hilarious idioms used in the South, such as: “Tell you what, I’d eat the crust off a heifer’s teats about this moment,” or “You must think me dumb as a brick commode and just as easy as to shit on.”
Bootlegger Rory Docherty has returned home to the fabled mountain of his childhood – a misty wilderness that holds its secrets close and keeps the outside world at gunpoint. Slowed by a wooden leg and haunted by memories of the Korean War, Rory runs bootleg whiskey for a powerful mountain clan in a retro-fitted ’40 Ford coupe. Between deliveries to roadhouses, brothels, and private clients, he lives with his formidable grandmother, evades federal agents, and stokes the wrath of a rival runner.
In the mill town at the foot of the mountains – a hotbed of violence, moonshine, and the burgeoning sport of stock-car racing – Rory is bewitched by the mysterious daughter of a snake-handling preacher. His grandmother, Maybelline “Granny May” Docherty, opposes this match for her own reasons, believing that “some things are best left buried.” A folk healer whose powers are rumored to rival those of a wood witch, she concocts potions and cures for the people of the mountains while harboring an explosive secret about Rory’s mother – the truth behind her long confinement in a mental hospital, during which time she has not spoken one word. When Rory’s life is threatened, Granny must decide whether to reveal what she knows…or protect her only grandson from the past.
I was impressed with author’s writing ability, vivid descriptions, and realistic feel of the 1950s North Carolina setting. Unfortunately for me, I have to rate this novel purely on my enjoyment and not on the author’s remarkable talent. I desperately wanted to love this book because it seemed as if it would be right up my alley in every facet. I love Historical Fiction and books set in the South. However, I found my mind wandering throughout, unable to focus. There were parts of this story I found interesting, especially the portrayal of Granny May’s eccentric style and tell-it-like-it-is attitude. For the most part, I got lost in the long descriptions and didn’t find the story moving hastily enough to keep my attention.
The constant switching between the characters’ perspectives within a single chapter and third-person storytelling kept me from feeling fully immersed in the book. I was unable to get enough perspective from each character to feel emotionally attached to them, which also contributed to the disconnect. I simply think the author’s writing style was not for me as a reader and does not have to do with the book’s quality. Gods of Howl Mountain will be a hit for certain audiences and was a worthy representation of the post-war era, Southern culture, and whiskey-running. The book boasts a great and unexpected twist toward the end of the story, along with a perfectly flawed family, but it wasn’t enough to rein in a higher rating from me. I really wished I was able to like it more and hate to give a well-written book such a low rating. The story, sadly, left me wanting.
If you find yourself interested in the topics mentioned, definitely pick up Gods of Howl Mountain on March 20th, it may be just what you’re looking for.