Yesterday, there was nothing for me to do at work. I had already trimmed my nails with one of the many X-acto knives that inexplicably cover my desk. I had also already marked everything within reach with the red “CONFIDENTIAL” stamp I found in a desk drawer. I had finished checking company Facebook pages and finished my “social media outreach” for the day (this is actually a part of my job, not further evidence of my slacking). After I finished all this, I decided to check out one of the upcoming titles, and so I read The Diviner’s Tale, cover-to-cover.
I chose this book, out of all the many free books that hang around the office, because it was written by a familiar figure. Bradford Morrow is a professor at Bard College, and while I never took a single class with him, I was made aware of his existence by various writerly peers (though I have been employed for over two years as a writer, I never considered myself a writer, especially not in college, where I was not nearly confident enough or creative enough to claim that name). Perhaps because I tended to think of Bard as the last bastion of bohemian high-minded snobbery, I didn’t expect Morrow’s book to be so riveting. I expected complicated prose and philosophical musings, not a vaguely trashy mystery. Which is exactly what it is (and exactly what I wanted to read while waiting for 5 to roll around).
Here’s the basic premise: Cassandra, named such because she’s a prophet, natch, is a diviner, meaning she goes around finding water and seeing the future. Her brother disappeared when she was a kid, and her family has never really been the same. Spoiler alert: though Morrow never uses the word, Cass was raped when she was a kid, which casts a weird, threatening cloud of sexual violence over the entire narrative that is only half-way acknowledged. She goes into the woods one day, near where the “assault” occurs, and sees a vision of a dead girl hanging from a tree. Soon after, a lost teenager emerges from the woods, who has also, we are to assume, been the victim of sexual violence. It’s pretty creepy, and more than once, I found myself curling into a little ball in my office chair, as though to protect my organs from whatever passage I was currently reading. Which is to say: My body language says it’s good, so it must be.
However, it did remind me a lot of the book Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand. There are quite a few easy similarities (both feature damaged narrators named Cassandra, both include trips to Maine, both are sort of modern magical realism, both have a sick psycho killer hiding in the woods) but I think The Diviner’s Tale was creepier. But I would recommend either novel.