Mr. Splitfoot was a bit of a jolt for me in my reading habits, but it was a good jolt. It begins in upstate New York, with Ruth and Nat, two teens who live together in a foster home. This foster home, called The Love of Christ! Foster Home, Farm, and Mission is really a terrible place full of kids who aren't wanted by anyone. It's run by Father Arthur, a man who collects checks from the government and treats the foster kids horribly. Full of fire and brimstone, he's completely dysfunctional and takes all the kids who are "damaged" into his care. The unwanteds. Ruth's mother threw bleach on her face when she was little, leaving scars that resemble the night sky. Nat talks to the dead. Or is it all an act?
Ruth and Nat fall into a relationship with a traveling con artist, Mr. Bell. He takes them around to give readings to people who want contact with their dead relatives. It's a way for Ruth and Nat to make money and get away from the foster home, where they will be kicked out as soon as they turn 18.
An alternating story involves Ruth's niece, Cora. Set in current day, Cora is a young woman who finds herself pregnant and living with Ruth's sister (and Cora's mother), El. El and Ruth had both lived at Love of Christ! until El was taken away and left on the side of the road by Father Arthur on her 18th birthday. Ruth waited for her sister to come back to get her, but she never did. Cora wakes one night to find her Aunt Ruth standing in her bedroom. Ruth takes Cora on a walking tour of New York state. Where are they going? Why doesn't Ruth talk? How does it connect to Ruth and Nat's past?
There are so many elements to this novel. It is quirky, sad, funny, mystical, magical, and sometimes just bizarre. But at the core, it reflects on motherhood in all of its varied ways, family, love, and how we all affect one another through our actions, words, and emotions. Mr. Splitfoot is certainly a book club worthy read, and was a great way to kick off my 2016 reading list.
Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing a review copy, and for being so enthusiastic about this novel.
Rating: 8/10 for a very different, yet moving novel that combines what we want with what we've got (and how to work with it), and the absolute powerful pull of love in all its mysterious ways.