28 July 2019

Review || The Toll by Cherie Priest



State Road 177 runs along the Suwannee River, between Fargo, Georgia, and the Okefenokee Swamp. Drive that route from east to west, and you’ll cross six bridges. Take it from west to east, and you might find seven.


But you’d better hope not.

Titus and Davina Bell leave their hotel in Fargo for a second honeymoon canoeing the Okefenokee Swamp. But shortly before they reach their destination, they draw up to a halt at the edge of a rickety bridge with old stone pilings, with room for only one car . . .

When, much later, a tow-truck arrives, the driver finds Titus lying in the middle of the road, but Davina is nowhere to be found.




 





The Toll begins in Staywater, Georgia in the garden of Daisy Spratford and her cousin Claire at a house named Hazelhurst. They are strange old birds. Daisy with her gardening spade intermittently stabbing insects or maybe voles or mice along with the garden soil. Claire with her unceasing knitting. Daisy and Claire are godmothers to Cameron Spratford, a bored seventeen year old who is used to the complexities and strangeness of his godmothers. We then jump to an unhappy couple on a swamp seeing honeymoon, when something strange occurs and the wife disappears. 

I struggled a lot with The Toll to start with. I will admit to a wandering mind when it comes to the way books are written. I don't enjoy dual plotted novels and for quite a while, it almost felt like two separate books were being written — that of Staywater's most peculiar residents and that of bewildered husband Titus. While the feel of the novel was certainly that of a spooky Southern gothic, I didn't care enough about the characters or the setting to really immerse myself in the story. The writing was interesting enough but I felt there were so many undeveloped ideas that it became encumbered with details. 

I stuck it out and I'm so glad I did. I LOVED the last quarter of The Toll. I don't know how I could be so "meh" about the beginning and yet have the ending make me want to read it again. Daisy and Claire really got their time to shine and shine they did! They reminded me in a weird way of Miss Spink and Miss Forcible in Neil Gaiman's Coraline and the way they shed their skin to become the Other Miss Spink and Miss Forcible. The atmosphere was cranked up until you could practically feel the humid, swamp air on your face and sense the stare of something otherworldly on your back. Cherie Priest has a lovely writing style and if the ending is any indication, she is certainly capable of crafting a strong, evocative story. I'm just sad to say that I was underwhelmed by the beginning.