A New Favorite, But Not for Everyone - The Diviners by Libba Bray
Note from Sarah: A couple month ago the book club that Laura, Sandra and I are all in (with some other fabulous ladies here in Portland) read Libba Bray's hefty novel The Diviners. I don't think we've had a selection that elicited such divided opinions. I didn't finish it--the narrative style just didn't work at all for me; Laura finished it but didn't like it; and another member quickly abandoned it. However, three other people loved it, none so much as Sandra, who named it a new favorite. It's interesting to me because the elements that people loved are the same elements that other people couldn't stand--The Diviners was a good reminder that so much of reading is based on personal taste and what the reader brings to the experience.
Libba Bray writes of the wind in the first pages of The Diviners, of how it swoops through New York City, silent witness to all that has been, is and will be.
The wind existed forever. It has seen much in this country of dreams and soap ads, old horrors and bloodshed. It has played mute witness to its burning witches, and has walked along a Trail of Tears; it has seen the slave ships release their human cargo, blinking and afraid, into the ports, their only possession a grief they can never lose ... It ran with the buffalo and touched tentative fingers to the tall black hats of Puritans. It has carried shouts of love, and it has dried tears to salt tracks on more faces than it can number.
The wind also saw the Roaring Twenties, a time when anything seemed possible, where money flowed as freely as illegal booze.
Evie O’Neill felt trapped in a small town with small minds. She ached to jump out of the confines of he life into the glamour and excitement she knew waited for her. Her exuberance and sometimes her rashness made Evie a poor candidate for living happily in a backwoods Ohio community.
One evening while partying with friends and drinking way too much, Evie stretches the bounds of acceptability for the last time by revealing a town scandal. It lands her in front of her parents with her head pounding from a hangover with mom and dad shouting their displeasure and despair.
“Your mother and I do not approve of drinking have you not heard of the Eighteenth Amendment?”
“Prohibition? I drink to its health whenever I can.”
Living in Ohio on her own terms and following her own sense of right and wrong made Evie a unique and therefore suspect personality. The verdict from her parents? Off to New York City with you until things cool off a bit here.
This punishment was more than Evie could have hoped for.She's sent to live with her Uncle Will who curates an unusual museum: The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult. Locally it's called The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.
Complex characters, historical accuracy and a tale that gripped me from beginning to end make this a fantastic book.
Evie's quirky personality and use of slang brought me smiles and a few laughs. I pos-i-tute-ly love her!
Evie's having a great time. She revels in the speakeasies, the shopping, the glamour of the Ziegfeld girls and the unique friends she quickly makes. Life's a party and she's its center until the party takes a turn where there's no way out but for her to partner with Uncle Will on a dangerous path leading into a fanatic’s obsession.
Occult murders linked to a murky past of forbidden magic, sorcery and the calling up of demonic creatures put Evie at her uncle's side to ferret out the evil that slimes its way beneath the glitter, glamour and glory of the Jazz Age.
Murdered people with various body parts missing bring Evie and Uncle Will to suspect a ritualistic tie to a psycho-ghost whose intention is the releasing of hell upon earth.
Hell upon earth could come in the form of the anti-Christ or the Beast if the religious fanaticism of the past becomes the reality of the present. Evie delves into the history of a group known as the Brethren who believed it was their duty to bring about the end times – a group that blurred the lines between religion, fanaticism and horror.
The line between faith and fanaticism is a constantly shifting one…When does belief become justification? When does right become rationale and crusade become crime?
Love and compassion crumbled in the hands of the Brethren. It became their stated goal to flush out the unbelievers, the abominators, whoremongers and idolaters.
For only the chosen shall rise with the Beast. And the world fall to ash.
Evie's talent to divine got her booted out of Ohio. It might be the one thing that can save the world from calamity.
Bray's characters, setting and place held me spellbound.
The cast of characters is large, the milieu of the city real, the vibrancy of the period unparalleled and the research an education in itself. Nearly 600 pages long, The Diviners still ended too soon for me. I came to enjoy the company of Evie, her sassy personality, her uncle and her friends. The philosophical manner which Bray brought forth questions without coming across as pedantic or preachy is pure genius.
In The Author's Note at the conclusion of the book, Bray says that in fiction liberties and tinkering must be taken. She coins the phrase "narrative tinkering."
Her narrative tinkering means that she dabbled a bit with reality to create one of my new favorite novels.
Truth can be stranger than fiction so some elements needed no tinkering. There was a Hotsy Totsy Club run by the gangster legs Diamond, a eugenics movement, Fitter Families for Future Firesides, the KKK, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1924 and the Pillar of Fire Church.
Monstrous groups born of imagination do not overshadow, the horror or the reality created by humans against one another.
I've tried to remain as faithful as I can to the time period and actual history while crafting a story that includes mystery, magic, monsters and the unexplained...
Every word's a gem. Every character unique. Every page a gift.