The Strophes of Job

Ted Morrissey

Publisher: Twelve Winters Press Pages: 196 Price: (hardcover) $35.00 ISBN: 9798989108640 Reviewed: April, 2024 Author Website: Visit »

Ted Morrissey’s novel is a prequel to his award-winning Crowsong for the Stricken. Set in a 1900s’ Midwestern village, two women struggle to give birth while their families fight a violent winter storm to summon the region’s only midwife, herself tainted by a string of stillbirths. Spiraling from this catalyst, Morrissey expertly layers perspectives while excavating the strata of each characters’ interpersonal traumas.

Roberta Frye’s pregnancy symbolizes a secret in her marriage, kept from her children, who are making the treacherous trek for help though Hollis Woods, named for children who disappeared there a generation before. Some swear they’ve seen the Hollis’s ghosts. Many suspect the gruesome truth of what became of them.

Across the woods, Peggy Johnson has sequestered herself, purportedly expecting a baby with her husband, while their 16-year-old daughter Sarah has withdrawn from the community, supposedly to help her mother.

Apart from midwife Emma Houndstooth, only Emma’s son, Whit (Sarah’s secret admirer), and Billy Holcomb (Sarah’s unwelcome suitor) know the truth: that it’s Sarah who is secretly pregnant; Peggy has concocted the ruse to prevent Sarah’s public humiliation, an insult that would compound an already awful trauma she has experienced. Whit and Billy each harbor separate suspicions about the origin of Sarah’s secret, and when they confront each other as rivals, the result is deadly and unexpected.

The book does many things effectively: It’s a Southern gothic novel transplanted to the Midwest, a Victorian horror story in early 20th century America, and a sweeping magical realist family saga. Morrissey’s Faulkneresque stream-of-consciousness style is hypnotic, and his characters seem to live beyond the page.

It’s a serious literary achievement, but—with loose ends deferred and character arcs unrealized—it doesn’t truly stand alone. Still, it remains impactful, like a Zen painting where you can sense the world evoked between brush strokes.

Whether readers judge that underdetermined quality a strength or weakness, The Strophes of Job is a notable work from a singular talent.

Author's Current Residence
Sherman, Illinois
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