Belief is a powerful thing. It can also be a dangerous thing, as we learn in Mr Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt. Over the course of the novel, we see cults, seances, toxic love, and more. Hunt crams an awful lot of plot and ideas into this novel, yet it never feels overstuffed. Instead, Mr Splitfoot is an intense ride through upstate New York. It was so gripping, I had to read it in two sittings just so that I could get to the heart of this book’s mysteries.
Mr Splitfoot contains two women’s stories, told in alternating chapters. Ruth’s chapters are set 14 years ago. She and her sister were taken away from their mother after their mother poured bleach on Ruth’s face, scarring her for life. Ruth’s much older sister ages out of foster care and Ruth is left alone at Love of Christ! farm. The only good part of her rough, hungry life there is Nat. (They call themselves sisters, even though Nat never identifies as female.) When the two turn 17, Ruth starts to look for ways to escape Love of Christ! She doesn’t want to deal with the hunger or the Father’s crazy rants about religion and history anymore. She also doesn’t want to find herself penniless and helpless. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Nat develops a knack for talking to the dead and the pair meet conman Mr Bell.
In the present, Cora (Ruth’s niece) has just discovered that she is pregnant and that her married boyfriend is terrible. She drifts through life, unlike her striving mother and aunt. Cora’s life changes when Ruth appears one night and convinces her to take off for…somewhere. Ruth can’t or won’t speak. It’s only her urgency that gets Cora on the road. After the car breaks down, Cora and Ruth walk for months towards Ruth’s unknown goal.
The more time we spend on the road with Cora and in the past with Ruth, the weirder things get. Ruth keeps crossing (through no fault of her own) men who have such strong beliefs that they draw followers or who believe her self-serving lies. Nat and Mr Bell are her only allies—though it’s clear that Mr Bell has his own agenda. The women in Mr Splitfoot are survivors. They adapt to circumstances. They look for opportunities to get out of their bad situations. But the men! The men in Mr Splitfoot want to reshape reality in their own image and they do their best to drag the women into those reality. It’s terrifying.
Mr Splitfoot had me from the beginning. Because of the 14 year gap between Ruth’s chapters and Cora’s chapters, there is a big mystery about what happened to Ruth in the years in between. Why is she not talking? Where is she taking Cora? What happened to Nat and Mr Bell? Not only does the book get weirder, it gets ever more tense as Ruth escapes a psychotic cult leader and a disappointed lover over and over. I just had to get to the conclusion so that I would know what the hell happened. This book is an incredible ride.