Modern Lit: Witches on the Road Tonight, by Sheri Holman

Witches on the Road TonightThe house at Panther Gap

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The oddly titled Witches on the Road Tonight opens with an accident. Tucker Hayes is working on a WPA project, collecting information for travelers in the Appalachian Mountains, when 8 year old Eddie dashes in front of his car. He’s not badly injured, by Tucker insists on taking him to his home, a shack high in the hills. Eddie’s mother, Cora, is out, and by the time she returns, it’s too late for Tucker to hike back to the car. He spends the night, and his “dreams” are weird but highly erotic. For Cora knows all about the properties of plants and nature, and also has the power of shape shifting. What happens that night will determine their futures.

From this point on, author Holman does some shifting of her own, alternating times, places, and perspectives among her three principal characters. Tucker stays longer in the mountains than anticipated, and Eddie grows up to become a cult figure, “Captain Casket” on a nightly TV horror show. His daughter, Wallis, seems to have inherited her grandmother’s penchant for the mystical, and she experiments with her powers on Jasper, the homeless teen taken in by her family.

Witches is written in thoughtful, sometimes lyrical prose, and the passages set in the Appalachians are particularly evocative and eerie. While it does have its otherworldly elements, the overriding theme deals with human fears and desires. As Eddie describes them, “There is the fear of failure and nuclear annihilation and snakes, of getting up in the morning, and then, of course, there is the fear of the dark, which is, as they all are, the fear of Death, which we dare not examine too closely while in life, lest it ruin all the more pleasurable fears of living and loving.”

What undermines this tale is the frequent confusion wrought by the narrative, hopping back and forth from the 1940’s to the 80’s to the present, and told in different voices. I found myself rereading entire chapters to discern what was actually happening. But all is clarified in the closing pages, and Witches casts a lingering spell.

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