The Hum and The Shiver, by Alex Bledsoe
Posted November 16, 2011on:
The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe
published in Sept 2011
where I got it: purchased new
I knew it was going to be a busy couple days, so I planned to take at least 4 days to read this book. I started it on a cloudy Saturday evening, and finished it the following Monday. I hate sounding cliche, but I simply couldn’t put it down. I admit that from the blurb on the back I was expecting something run of the mill – Wounded war hero Bronwyn Hyatt returns home to recuperate, giving her hometown it’s fifteen minutes of fame. And that’s where the “run of the mill” ended. Bronwyn’s parents seem oddly disappointed in her, in a way that’s got nothing to do with her military record. Her ex-boyfriend can’t wait to get back into her life, a ghost is hanging out in her backyard, a confuddled preacher is wandering around town, and worst of all, she can’t remember how to play her mandolin.
Bronwyn, her family, and her entire hometown are Tufa. Not white, not black, not Hispanic or Native American, not anything, the Tufa clans have been living in the Tennessee mountains since before the white man came. They keep to themselves and do their own thing, and they don’t like strangers. The last thing they need is every local news station in the midwest descending on them to interview a war hero with a busted up leg.
As the first hundred pages flew by, I wondered if the writing was maybe on the simple side. Bledsoe seems to be a fan of the “less is more” school of writing, which is completely fine with me. But there’s no simple writing here, just subtleties that pull you into the story so gently that before you know it, you’re standing on Bronwyn’s front porch, smiling alongside her mother as her little brother shoots tin cans off the fence posts. I no longer felt like I’d gotten thrown in the deep end.
Like the best kinds of magical realism, The Hum and The Shiver is as much about discovering something as it is about keeping the secret things secret. I could keep butchering a proper plot summary, but I’m gonna get right to the good stuff and just tell you to read this book because it’s one of the edgiest magical realism / urban fantasies I’ve run into in years. I probably just spoiled a surprise by even categorizing this as urban fantasy.
Besides edgy, and besides the subtle writing and the addictive story populated by mysterious characters, Bledsoe allows those characters to be brutally honest. All those heart to heart conversations we so often run into in books where the protagonist is a teen hellion with a heart of gold? This book doesn’t have those. Case in point:
“There’s a word for people who only care about what they want themselves.”
“Sociopath?” Bronwyn said sarcastically.
“I was thinking ‘asshole’. But whatever works for you.”
And plenty more conversations and observations just like that. Perhaps it’s just the character’s personalities, or maybe it’s that Bledsoe doesn’t suffer from loving the sound of his own voice, but there is no beating around the bush in this book. It’s so nice to read dialog that doesn’t feel like it was written with a television audience in mind. And Bronwyn most certainly doesn’t have a heart of gold.
If you like subtle, if you like magical realism or urban fantasy with a twist in the presentation, The Hum and The Shiver is a book for you. Think Charles DeLint meets Gene Wolfe plus the magic of music. As always, I hate to give anything away, but I will assume that Bledsoe has plans to write more books with these characters.