Carol Kean's Reviews > Ghost on Black Mountain

Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite
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Dec 17, 2015

it was amazing
Read in June, 2011

Ann Hite's debut novel "Ghost on Black Mountain" has enough Gothic horror and suspense to keep us reading until the candle burns out in the dark of night, and enough meaning to keep scholars arguing for years to come. Hite's seamless and economical prose may make for easy reading, but look again. This novel is loaded. Bold, brilliant and beautiful, it has all the richness and depth of 19th C literature without the tedious, wordy prose.

The story sounds deceptively simple--a charismatic stranger comes to town and sweeps innocent young Nellie off her feet, but instead of happily ever-after, Mama sees death in the tea leaves. Nellie, like all young girls who know their own heart, blows off the warning. "Mama was just desperate to keep me home. There wasn't nothing bad going to happen. I didn't much believe in tea leaves anyway."

I marvel at Ann Hite's confidence and authority in establishing Nellie's voice. Could she pull it off in all six sections of the novel with their various points of view? Yes. Yes, yes yes! All the women of Black Mountain are so convincing, you can't help but nod an "amen" even if they're telling you ghost stories. Mostly, they're busy telling Nellie the same thing her Mama did: anyone who'd marry Hobbes Pritchard is either crazy in the head or so young she has no sense.

"If you want to know how Nellie Pritchard got herself into the mess she did," Mama tells us in Part Two, "you got to know parts of my story." Mothers will shake their heads in sympathy every time Josie Clay talks about parenting. "The good Lord knew I did my best to send (Nellie) in the right direction just like my mama did me and her mama did her. It's a weakness trying to keep our daughters from making the same mistakes." In section six Annie Harbor, both a mother and a daughter, reminds us: "Mamas can't protect their daughters. Not really. They're helpless to watch and wait."

Josie Clay knows the story by heart because it's universal. She didn't need a college degree to gain Goethe's insight that "Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished." Josie's own mama warned her that "if I married, I wasn't going to see anything but struggles. Did I listen? Shoot, no." One look at Owen Clay and "I fell in love with him. As if I knew what love was. In front of me stood what I wanted more than anything, and I figured if he had any wrongs, I could iron them right out like a wrinkled shirt dress. Lord, that's the worst thing a woman can do, love a man so much she can't see reason." And so her daughter Nellie's story opens doors that women like Josie have held tightly shut for hundreds of years.

While women's issues are a strong part of this novel, the American Gothic elements will rivet a wider audience. An atmosphere of mystery and suspense pervade Nellie's world. Hobbes isolates her in a large, dusty old house that's been in his family for years. Instead of welcoming young Mrs. Pritchard, locals shun her or warn her to run for her life. Hobbes Pritchard is evil, and they have no qualms about saying so to his well-meaning wife. Everyone on the mountain, living or dead, warns Nellie to leave, but young love is so stubborn, it can take a gradual series of escalating abuse before a bride moves out of denial into awareness, then horror and remorse. Certain locals who talk to Nellie look and sound human but turn out to be ghosts. And all of them have an axe to grind with Hobbes. Hurry, they whisper, but before Nellie will dare to leave Hobbes, she has to uncover his secrets. Local legends, spooky voices and artifacts in the attic charge Nellie's world with supernatural terror and real-life danger.

Hite's strong, enigmatic women characters make us want more, and she delivers. Her next novel shines the spotlight on Shelly Parker, the ghost-whisperer of Black Mountain who downplays her own intelligence and talent because a good black servant girl knows her place. If there's one flaw in this novel, it's that Shelly's section is far too short. More Shelly! We want more of her stoic wisdom mixed with fearlessness and compassion. She is a survivor. "Nellie Pritchard was the first white person to treat me like a regular girl," she tells us. On hearing "Nellie, call me Nellie," not Mrs. Pritchard, Shelly with a hand on her hip says, "No, ma'am, it ain't proper." At 14 she is far more savvy and mature than her 18-year-old employer. Their dialogue is piercingly funny, especially when Nellie earns her trust and Shelly has the audacity to tell it like it is.

The relationship between Nelly and the servant girl brings to mind Kathryn Stockett's best selling novel The Help. Both Hite and Stockett expose the hypocrisy of an era, deftly weaving history and social issues into the fascinating and complex relationships of maids and mistresses, husbands and wives, neighbors and members of the community.
Ann Hite is such a keen observer of human nature, even her ghosts are believable. While science has yet to prove the spirit outlives the body, documented testimonials from people across time and continents bear witness to the same type of ghost sitings Hite describes. The ghost may look and act like a living human. Frequently, the living will describe a personage they've never seen or heard of before, and the description matches an actual person who died. Science has no explanation for that, but the good folk on Black Mountain do. Death is not the end. And the sins of our fathers can have repercussions that last and last across the generations.

With beautiful prose, memorable characters and haunting themes, Ann Hite is as certain to impress scholars with her multi-layered exploration of women's issues and the dark side of human nature as she is to win the hearts of the reading public for generations to come.
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06/18 marked as: read

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Daniella Bova I read this a few years ago & loved it :-)

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