Barrie Anne Blythe, the main character in Louisa Morgan’s second novel, spends a considerable amount of The Witch’s Kind alone, sequestered in her isolated farmhouse and attempting to dig out a life for herself amid the potatoes and carrots and pea shoots of her garden.
It’s an important image, one that speaks to centuries of representations of Barrie Anne’s “kind.” (She’s a witch, as you might already have guessed.)
Barrie Anne and her Aunt Charlotte share that peculiar talent, passed down through the women of their family. That, and various other irregularities in how they conduct themselves (Charlotte’s sexuality and gender nonconformity, Barrie Anne’s troubled marriage)have largely estranged them from their neighbors.
The image of solitary Barrie Anne rambling around her quiet homestead “others” her: the very idea that a woman might choose this sort of independence makes her strange, worrisome. Off. Setting aside magic or the occult, that’s the crux of the witch trope, and it’s a topic Morgan explores with a deft touch in her sophomore novel.
The Witch’s Kind is a much more delicate, more petite affair than Morgan’s debut, the generational portrait A Secret History of Witches. It does, however, feature the same attention to emotional detail, the same well-researched precision, and the same focus on familial ties, which root the fantastical elements of its story.
In post-World War II coastal Washington, Barrie Anne and Charlotte are visited by two events of intrigue. The first is a baby—a healthy, happy, yet unusual baby, delivered to them via extraordinary circumstances and bearing signs of a similar power to their own.
The second is the unexpected return of Barrie Anne’s long-lost ne’er-do-well husband, whose desperation and abuse escalate in tandem.
The convergence of these events forms the climax of this deceptively simple novel. Peppered throughout are other challenges to the tenuous security these women have carved out for themselves, including alien sightings and the intrusion of suspicious G-men from some new agency called the CIA.
Magic infuses the story, but it is not the focus. That honor belongs to the relationships of its characters: between Barrie Anne and Charlotte, sure, but also between that pair and their ancestors, as well as the characters who orbit them.
It’s a story of witches, told from the perspective of witches, which ensures the reader a front-row seat to a struggle between self-preservation and a yearning for community. It’s a quiet, meditative look at the world from the eyes of the outsider, and it sings with sensory detail. Barrie Anne, though naive and too trusting, takes little for granted, and it’s through her clear-eyed perspective we experience the world. Her garden comes alive with sights, sounds, and textures. When she and Charlotte go for Green Rivers at the soda fountain, you can almost taste the bubbles. And when Willow, their dog, takes off across the orchard at full speed, you can feel the panic coursing through his doggy veins.
The Witch’s Kind is not a fantasy powerhouse fueled by spellcasting or witchcraft. Instead, it is a lush, loving look at everyday lives of women like Barrie Anne and Charlotte, on whom we’ve projected our unusual fantasies.
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