Mandahla: The Messenger of Magnolia Street Reviewed

"God is walking through Shibboleth, rummaging through the pockets of his memory, the distant past and the near future." The tale of this small southern town, "keeper of the eternal key," is told by the Recorder, an angel who writes down all that ever was, is now, or is yet to come. Its story was meant to unfold in a certain way, but now a dark mist hovers above the ground as the people sleep, with "secret stealth and things that move along wishing to be left alone." The fate of Shibboleth will presently be determined by the actions of three now-grown childhood friends, brothers Nehemiah and Billy Trust and Trice, a girl found in a well at birth.
Nehemiah is living in Washington, D.C., and Billy and Trice have gone, at her urging, to bring him back. She has visions, and realizes that something is being stolen from the town, something that is "everything worth keeping." They travel from Shibboleth in Old Blue, Billy's pick-up. "Old Blue was God's idea. He relishes a good ride in the back of a pickup, and the wind doesn't bother him a bit." Is there doubt that Nehemiah will return, that he will take on the responsibility that has been given to him? It doesn't matter, because the journey is the point.
The center of the furtive darkness that worries Trice seems to be near the springs outside of town, where the friends used to hang out and explore the surrounding caves. When Nehemiah and Billy go to the springs, they encounter this sinister mist, which sucks their breath away; however, they are miraculously protected by the many years of prayers their late mother layered over them. Eventually they have to confront the evil, and when they finally act, they are aided by the strength and faith of the townspeople. As the three battle their unseen foe, redemption and grace are healing others in Shibboleth, "weaving songs in the keys of forgive and forgiven."
River Jordan's writing is lush and entrancing, with gently comic turns of phrase. ("I'm not the only one swimming in the river of strange.") Mysterious re-occurrences of a red fox, chiming clocks and gold dust on a mother's quilt add to the fantastical atmosphere. Charming and eccentric characters are book-ended by Aunt Kate, provider of cornbread and blackberry jelly, and Butch, a former Marine who realizes the value of prayer at a crucial moment: "Only prayer can bring him out alive . . . He prays like a poet. Call it inspired. Call it desperation." This is a lovely, graceful book.--Marilyn Dahl

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