It begins normally enough: a small group of teenagers plan a slightly disobedient get-together up by long-abandoned mines up in the mountains. By the time the night is done, the small town of Crow Hollow will be under a curse, a curse that leads to hysteria, destruction, and death.
This is Billy Coffey’s The Curse of Crow Hollow. It is a dark tale, unremitting and unrelenting, a story that builds to a series of climaxes that will leave the town devastated, and reader with chewed fingernails.
The story centers on five families: Bucky Vest works at the town dump, while his wife Angela watches television soap operas and daughter Cordelia believes she’s in love with Hays Foster. Hays parents, Landis and Kayann, own the local grocery store. Mayor Bickford and his daughter Sharon still mourn the death of his wife and her mother. David Ramsay is the church pastor; at home is his wife Belle and daughter Naomi, while his son John David stays with Chessie and Briar Hodge, the town’s suppliers of moonshine.
The teens stumble into Alvaretta Graves, long rumored to be a witch. A confrontation ends with Scarlett striking Alvaretta, who speaks a curse on the teens and the town. And the curse begins immediately.
It’s Coffey’s darkest tale yet and, I would argue, his best. It’s been a pleasure to watch his writing grow and develop. This is a story that would be difficult for any writer to keep command over, moving as it does through the main characters, minor characters, side stories and secrets buried in the past. But Coffey does it, and does it well.
This story is a far cry from his first two novels, Snow Day and Paper Angels. The turn toward dark tales began with When Mockingbirds Sing, followed by The Devil Walks in Mattingly and In the Heart of the Dark Wood. The last three are set in the same general area of the Blue Ridge Mountains as The Curse of Crow Hollow.
Of particular note is the unnamed narrator, who speaks with a Southern accent and a voice that is both knowledgeable and yet almost chilling. Who is this? It’s a man, likely an elderly man, but his identity isn’t revealed until the end.
With The Curse of Crow Hollow, Billy Coffey is breaking new ground. He’s moved in a more literary direction. He has plumbed the depths of the emotions and realities of small town life. And what he’s best known for – telling simple but great stories about ordinary people – is in full flower.
Photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.