The children at Love of Christ! foster home are the ones that no one wants. One has arthritic claws for hands, another came out of the gutter with bugs under her skin, and Ruth has a map of scars across her face and a bond with her foster brother Nat that is stronger than family. They suffer through hunger and mistreatment only to discover a way to survive it by channeling the dead for their lonely housemates. This talent attracts the attention of a mysterious con-man, changing their dismal outlook into a path they couldn’t otherwise have imagined.
Alternating with the path of young Ruth and Nat, is a story some years in the future; of Ruth’s niece Cora who has found herself pregnant. She is stuck with her job, her married callous boyfriend, and her obsession with her digital devices. Aunt Ruth shows up without Nat and leads Cora on a journey without telling her where or why they are going. In fact, she won’t speak at all. With no destination in sight, silent Ruth and pregnant Cora just walk. They meet people that provide some clues but don’t solve the mystery of where they are going and why Ruth won’t speak.
Mr. Splitfoot is an eerie exploration of what is created when children are left to the whims of damaged self-indulgent individuals. The darkness of the foster home and a dangerous cult are interspersed with moments of humor and brilliance from those who have been discarded. The book switches from a third-person narrative in one section to the first-person perspective of Cora, drawing the reader into the role of observer in ways that make you question the reality of what is happening. Characters throughout the story suffer the onslaught of manipulative degrading information, making the silence of Ruth both frustrating and freeing. Among the revelations that come along the journeys is that damage and imperfection are essential in creating perfection.
Beth Lehman is on the Children’s Staff at Mebane Public Library. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-563-6431.