Sunday, November 5, 2023

#BookReview of King of Nod by Scott Fad

King of Nod

By: Scott Fad
Publisher: River Grove Books
Publication Date: October 10, 2023
ISBN: 978-1632996640
Reviewed by: Rebecca Jane Johnson
Review Date: November 2, 2023
Boo Taylor, a former athlete who is now working in construction and real estate in South Carolina, is haunted by ghosts, demons, and mysteries that he had escaped in the late 1970s. But when his father dies twenty years later, he must return to Sweetpatch Island to confront what has changed, and what remains the same, in a place full of racial and class-based violence, fueled by land disputes and injustice. What is more, Boo had abandoned an edgy love affair with Gussie Dutton, and now that is coming back to trigger him, too.
Boo grew up privileged amongst the poor, an adopted son of a doctor living on Sweetpatch Island, but he was raised more by the local herb woman, Laylee Colebriar. This island, located off the coast of South Carolina, is a central character in the novel; it is a deceptively paradisical place where the fauna may be an herb women’s manna, but the social strife is its inhabitants’ menace. The island got its name when, during antebellum America, “it was a sweet patch of freedom for runaway slaves.”
This epic, Southern Gothic novel tells of residents continually clashing, stories of copious cruelty, revenge, and violence with an overarching narrative of Boo Taylor trying to solve the mysteries surrounding his friend, Hoss Beaudy’s untimely death, as well as his father’s mysterious death. Rhymes from Carolina low country harmonize with the frogs and crickets of swamp lands. Full of lyrical richness and engrossing storytelling, this novel offers much to satisfy avid readers, especially those who like detailed epics.
This novel wrestles with these questions: who is the next rightful “king” of Sweetpatch Island? Who will have the most social influence, political pull, and economic power? What will it take to secure such a powerful status?
Laylee Colebriar, the black herb woman, who talks “of root cures for headaches made with stump water and gator tails,” owns property, locally known as Chaliboque, which was once owned by Jojo Tribbit who had been born a slave but made it to Sweetpatch Island to become its king...until he was lynched. Chaliboque is a piece of coveted land; disputes over this land prove deadly.
The island is also haunted by a legendary beast and a witch named Mamie Stuvant. Historically, Hoss Beaudy’s grandfather had been at Jojo’s lynching, and the townspeople and the readers are led to believe Mamie Stuvant killed Hoss Beaudy in revenge and used his blood to write Boo Taylor’s name on the wall. Boo spends his life trying to lift the curse that has afflicted him since Hoss’s death. Witches that swallow crows whole, potions and spells mixed by herb women who talk of legends and history in the same breath—these are some of the tropes featured in this impressive tome.
The local Baptist preacher tells what he has seen of the hoodoo arts, and Boo Taylor goes about also trying to uncover another mystery that involves a fire that happened on the Island in 1971. We are simultaneously learning about what is happening in the present and the past, and the revelations are compelling enough to keep a reader turning the pages. The continual time jumps and shifts in point of view make the multiple storylines difficult to follow at times and it often feels like it’s not cohesive. However, overall it is, indeed, a powerful read.
Also, here is a trigger warning: this book contains disturbing rape scenes and descriptions of lynchings that feel too horrific to be written about in such a lyrical way because the lyricism risks unnecessarily fetishizing horror and violence.
Quill says: Containing every dramatic experience from violence to humor, plus every kind of personality from witches to politicians, King of Nod is a valuable addition to any library that celebrates the Southern Gothic literary tradition.

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