Choir of Ill Children, A (Book)

One can never escape the evil of one’s past — nor one’s family’s past — in this haunting Southern Gothic novel by Tom Piccirilli.

Kingdom Come is a tiny swampland town that seems to draw to it the crazies, those lost and damned souls forsaken by the rest of the world. With its diverse population of granny-witches, tongue-speaking preachers, swamp-rat whores, drunks, cult followers, and other assorted forms of human refuse, it is the kind of town no one wants to end up in, much less take credit for starting. Thomas is the richest and most respected and reviled citizen of Kingdom Come. His father, who founded the town, committed suicide; and his mother disappeared when he was still quite young, leaving him to care for his conjoined triplet brothers. Through the course of the story Thomas is sought out by the granny-witches, who believe he is not doing his duty by the land, and tells him cryptically that he must pay his debt.

While very stylish and beautiful in its complexity, A Choir of Ill Children commences its story without much cohesion. It begins as a confusing, yet quirky, tale; but by the middle portion it begins to get quite interesting. In fact, the last thirty pages of this novel are so emotionally charged that readers will fly through them until they arrive at the last — unsettled and disheveled.

The best thing about A Choir of Ill Children is Piccirilli’s attention to detail and descriptive prose. Through his characterization of the swamp he breathes life into the town, letting the readers see the terrible beauty that exists beneath the belching frogs and cloudy water. The human characters, likewise, are very well conceived. From the perpetually naked and moved-by-the-spirit Drabs to Thomas and his pedophilic tendencies, Piccarilli builds strange relationships that unsettle the reader. The oracle-like conjoined triplets and their underage lover, the granny-witches, and the priests of the Holy Order of the Flying Walendas, even those who seem to have no purpose but to sit and fill the air with their filth, all come together at the end in a monstrous painting of horrifying scope.

If Tom Piccirilli was attempting to write a novel that could disturb even the most jaded of souls, he hit the mark with both feet.

A Choir of Ill Children
By Tom Piccirilli
Bantam, 2004
240 Pages

4 out of 5

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