Gods of Howl Mountain
by Taylor Brown
Rory Docherty cares for only a few things. His Granny. His Ford. Making money as whiskey runner.
And perhaps, that dancing girl who makes hats.
Life after war has proven a tad unpredictable, but he’s been able to find solace in the whispers of the familiar mountain of his childhood. While the memories of Korea will haunt his nightmares forever; the ghosts of friends lost and the faces of his enemies permeating the very air he breathes while both awake and asleep, Rory has been able to find a semblance of peace wrapped up in that mountain and the old, creaky home that resides there.
He spends his days tinkering on Maybelline, his precious retro-fitted Ford coupe. The work is done lovingly and thoughtfully at the side of his old friend and expert mechanic; each touch put upon the Ford a caress given as lovingly as though they were lovers. The woman who watches over the two young men has a steely eye and an even sassier mouth – Granny May Docherty, a bawdy firecracker of a female. A former prostitute who sold her body for practical means, she now makes her living as a healer or as some say, a shaman or witch. The dirt of her land runs deep under her fingernails, and she can cure what ails anyone – if she so pleases to do so. Her dependence is solely upon the land, and her roots run as deep as any chestnut tree. The mountain breeze runs through her veins as well as the moonshine that saturates its valley.
Nights are spent on the road with the purring of the Ford set as the sweetest of melodies. Running liquor for his clan, Rory takes his job seriously. He’s well-known around the area, both by customers and by the law. The federal men have him firmly in their sights, jockeying for first place with the trouble he’s also having with a local boy who’s a bit too big for his britches. But Rory is focused, and he’s aware, and the steady work puts food on the table for his Granny and helps support his mother. The woman who gave birth to him but did not raise him is settled in a home for those who cannot support the mental faculties of their mind. The secrets of his mother’s emotional demise are hidden deep within the mountain, and Rory doesn’t know if he’ll ever figure them out.
The foot of the mountain has its own secrets. A brothel full of love for the night is in full view of the evangelical church across the street, and it is in the parking lot where things change for Rory. Captivated by the tangible beating pulse of the Holy Spirit and bewitched by the beautiful preacher’s daughter, Rory allows his heart to take over his head. But in the shifting of his focus all things surrounding him become blurry, leading to mistakes that have unbreakable consequences.
Taylor Brown is a critically acclaimed novelist best known for his lyrical style of writing. Gods of Howl Mountain possesses a deep richness of voice; the mountain and its valley beneath are as much a part of the character catalog as are Granny May and Rory Docherty. While the stylized writing is indeed undeniably beautiful and layered with care, I found the book to be overtaken by the descriptions of people, places, and things, leaving the plot to be almost non-existent.
It was really a shame. I was drawn in from the first few pages. A setting as humid and dark as I’ve personally known the back-woods to be. A healing woman, a purveyor of the earth and its natural tools. As a native Louisianan, I am not unfamiliar with the workings of herbalists and their particular kinds of magic. But while Brown is an master at weaving together the descriptions of both settings and characters, he equally failed at moving them forward. The book had no true meaning, no point of circumstance, and in all actuality – no point.
It is with much regret that I have to give Gods of Howl Mountain a meager 2 out of 5 star rating. The writing is beautiful and the story held so much promise, but as a reader I found myself in the same position on the final page as I was on the first one.