Bradford Morrow: The Diviner’s Tale

April 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

978-0547382630 – Hardcover – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – $26.00 (ebook version also available)

I have read a number of truly fine books over the past couple of years, most of which I have talked about on Writerscast.  It’s important to me that I’ve only been writing and talking about books I really liked.  A few of these wonderful books have just bowled me over, and Bradford Morrow’s The Diviner’s Tale is one of those.  It’s a tightly woven story and powerfully interior, paradoxically, as it is set in a variety of geographic locales (all familiar to the author and therefore quite beautifully described).

Reading this book, I found myself propelled by the force of the story, and enthralled with the main character Cassandra Brooks, a single mother of two boys, daughter of a professional dowser, who is blessed and cursed by visions (Cassandra in Greek mythology had the gift of prophecy) and conflicted about her own ability to find water underground (the last name Brooks is no accident either).

The book opens with a chilling and frightening event – Cassandra is walking the woods for a client and comes across a hanged girl, who is to her, not an apparition.  But when she brings the local sheriff to the scene (he is a former love interest – it’s a typical small town in upstate New York where everyone knows everyone), there is no sign of the hanged girl.  But they find another girl, and that launches the story’s trajectory which ultimately forces Cassandra to confront long buried secrets in her past and some very real and dangerous possibilities for her in the present.

While the story is set in upstate New York, near the Delaware River, a significant part of the book takes place in the beautifully drawn islands of Maine near Mt. Desert – more water, more mystery, more danger for Cassandra and the reader.

Morrow is a terrific writer, and has written a number of very fine novels, but this one may well be his best book thus far.  The Diviner’s Tale is a bit of a mash up, taking elements of mysteries, thrillers, and even supernatural novels, merging them into a dark melange that stands alone as an original work of modernist fiction.  I liked what Joyce Carol Oates said about it – “luminous and magical…a feat of prose divination.”  Well put indeed.

This book is a great pleasure to discover.

And talking to Brad was a pleasure as well.  He knows himself, his work, and what it means.  He talks fluently about this book, and the story of how the novel was born is definitely worth hearing.  I hope you will enjoy our conversation as thoroughly as I did.

The author’s website is worth a visit too – you get a chance to read some of his stories and find out more about his many projects (I knew Brad first as the editor of the extraordinary and long lasting literary magazine Conjunctions, now up to issue #55, and which has managed to retain its sense of discovery over many years and many different literary styles and genres).

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