Michael Gibson has returned to the quiet Appalachian home of his forebears to take care of his grandmother. Sadie is old and sickly but she has an important story to tell about growing up poor and Melungeon (a mixed race group of mysterious origin) while bedeviled by a snake-handling uncle and empathic powers she but barely understands.
In a field not far from the family home, however, lies an iron-bound crate within a small shack buried four feet deep under Kudzu vine. Michael somehow understands that hidden inside that crate is potentially his own death, his grandmother's death, and perhaps the deaths of everyone in the valley if he does not come to understand Sadie's story well enough.
Folks are rarely as forthright in life as they are in literature.
Communicating the truth of the human condition would make for some messy stories, so even the most deftly developed characters are at best partial pictures of the people they’d really be. After all, we wear different faces each day, don’t we? We wear one at work, another at home; one in the company of our mothers, another alongside our lovers.
During your life you play many parts—a daughter, a mother, a grandmother, a hero, a villain. You enter people’s lives and then you exit them. You say your lines—you inspire some people, and maybe some people hate you. And then, well, you leave the stage. (p.233)
Whether you receive a round of applause when you do, or boos, is up to you.
Blood Kin by Steve Rasnic Tem is a book about the conflicting legacies we leave which deals with death and depression and disability whilst trading in tension and frequently intolerable terror to excellent effect.
Our man Michael is almost a monster at the offing. On the back of a bad breakup he’s come back to the house in the South where he was born and raised; ostensibly to look after his ailing grandparent, but in truth he’s considering killing her—or at least letting her die. He decides against it, eventually, before settling in to suffer through some more of old Sadie’s story.
See, for some reason she’s determined to tell him about her hardships in this here hollow. About the preacher whose hellish services she was pressganged into attending as a girl, and the ungodly horrors that followed:
They’d had the most gruesome murder anybody had ever heard of and the murderer in the local jail and the deputy scared to death of angry folks taking his prisoner and her daddy almost shot the most popular moonshiner in the county and there were two big families now that didn’t know how to talk to each other and of course there was the preacher going a little crazier each day. Who walked around with a snake under his shirt curled around his chest and belly. (p.217)