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Joann Rose Leonard
The Healer of Fox Hollow
Vantage Point
US Trade Paperback First Edition
ISBN 978-1-936-46735-8
Publication Date: 07-15-2012
450 Pages; $14.95
Date Reviewed:10-01-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  General Fiction  Mystery  Fantasy  Horror

We like to think that we know our country and our world, that the boundaries are well understood and rarely crossed. But the word "boundary" itself suggests states we do not know; places and feeling where certainty is not possible. Where facts and certainty give way, stories begin. It is in stories that we travel through uncertainty; in stories we encompass not just the unknown but the unknowable. This is what happened, we say; make of it what you will.

There's plenty to make of what we will in Joann Rose Leonard's lovely, powerful and elegiac novel 'The Healer of Fox Hollow.' With a fine eye for both the details that create a world and a wide vision of the world itself, she creates a small part of the Smokey Mountains in the 1960's and turns it into a world of joy, love, wonder and terror. There's real grit in this story of Layla Tompkins, a mute healer who find her power as a child and comes of age in an age not so long ago that bears so many resemblances to the present. 'The Healer of Fox Hollow' is a perfect example of rural magic realism, where the limits of belief and possibility do not always match.

'The Healer of Fox Hollow' begins with you Layla at five, and takes us through the next fifteen years of her life. With careful writing and smart plotting, Leonard manages to give readers a story that combines a fast pace with a detailed and fully-realized world. Layla's father, Ed, is a pragmatic, likable man, not particularly comfortable with a young daughter who has a reputation for healing. On one side of the equation, there is Pastor Simpson, a snake-wielding soothsaying Christian; on the other, the skeptical Doc Fredericks, who handles the very real injuries of those who find themselves on the wrong side of unhappy snakes. Leonard's characters are complicated, detailed and self-contradictory; in other words, realistic. They're all compelling presences, even when it is clear that they do not have the best of intentions.

Leonard's real challenge here, one she meets admirably, is to create a plot out of a life. Her ability to manage stories both large and small is impressive in this insular world that she creates. There are many moments of tension and terror, and well as tenderness and joy. Leonard keeps these balanced with a smart arc and a nicely conceived story frame. In the stories within the story, she knows how to frame and block action so that the vents in the well-rendered landscape play out in our minds.

Plot, character, and the lovely language that create both are served well by the themes of knowledge, ignorance, certainty and doubt. Ultimately, this is a story of self-discovery and self-definition, of lives that do not fit between the lines. Layla, Ed, their lovers and friends, the people and the place of Fox Hollow, the story 𓴼 all of them are anchored in two worlds; one of faith and the ineffable, the other the life of every day. There's an inclination to think that we must choose one side or the other, that we must always be certain. 'The Healer of Fox Hollow' tells a compelling, intense story that dissolves certainty and erases boundaries. The act of reading, indeed, of healing, is a sort of journey towards a state of certainty that is ultimately, happily unattainable.

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