2015 Book 116: WHISPER HOLLOW Review

Whisper Hollow by Chris Cander
ISBN: 9781590517116 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781590517123 (ebook)
ASIN: B00N6PBE7O (Kindle edition)
Publication date: March 17, 2015
Publisher: Other Press

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.

Whisper Hollow is the story of three women: Myrthen, Alta, and Lidia, set in the small town of Verra, West Virginia. This mining town is filled with secrets and some people will go to great lengths to keep those secrets hidden.

Myrthen Bergmann was a first generation American, born to German immigrants in 1910. She, along with her twin sister Ruth, and her parents lived in a small mining community in West Virginia. Just days before Myrthen and Ruth’s sixth birthday a tragic accident resulted in Ruth’s death. A few years later Myrthen decides to dedicate her life to God and has the goal of becoming a nun. Myrthen sees herself as devout and pious; others see her as judgmental, hypercritical, and without compassion. Myrthen’s desire for a cloistered life dedicated to God changes when she is caught in flagrante delicto with a male suitor, Giovanni “John” Esposito, and rushed into marriage.

Alta Krol is only a few years younger than Myrthen and has had a crush on John Esposito. Alta knows that there isn’t any hope for her with John, but it doesn’t stop her from dreaming about him. A few years pass and Alta is married to Walter Pulaski and the mother of a young son. Her life isn’t great, but it isn’t altogether bad either. She loves Walter but she isn’t in love with him and she accepts that her life as a wife and mother in Verra, West Virginia is all she’s going to get or is it?

Fast forward a number of years and both Myrthen and Alta are widows due to a tragic mine explosion. It is now the 1960s and Lidia Kielar is a teenager in Verra. She marries her high school beau and they have a beautiful son, Gabriel. Gabriel isn’t the usual toddler and seems attuned to something no one else can see or hear. This doesn’t bode well in a small Appalachian town where people may believe in ghosts and ghouls, but they don’t want anybody to uncover their secrets.

I was very excited to learn about Whisper Hollow a few months back. As a native West Virginian, I’m always interested in reading stories set in my home state. The story is told in alternating voices of Myrthen, Alta, and Lidia over the course of 53 years. The reader is provided background into the family dynamics for each lady as well as given glimpses into small-town mining life. Whisper Hollow, for me, was a story about secrets, guilt, and the lies we tell ourselves. Some of those lies become so distorted and warped over time that we simply can’t face the truth. The biblical quote at the beginning of the book sums this up quite nicely: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” I enjoyed reading Whisper Hollow and found it to be a fast-paced and engrossing historical read. I found the characters to be well-developed and realistic, and the settings and action to be plausible. If you like historical fiction or simply stories set in small towns, then you’ll definitely want to grab a copy of Whisper Hollow to read.

Click here to read an excerpt.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher, Other Press. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Buy the Book

Available from:                      BookDepository     |     Alibris

Shop Indie Bookstores