These days there are many books that bend genres, making them next to impossible to classify. It’s to the point that lately, I’m not sure that any book deserves its pigeon hole. But people like making comparisons to whatever they know. That’s why genres are assigned. I’m not sure they are as relevant as they once were, though. When a reader has fallen in love with a given author’s work the importance of artificial categorizations diminishes. You read a book expecting the author to deliver and you follow no matter where his or her imagination takes you.
Steph Post writes Southern Noir, what a lot of people refer to as Grit Lit. Her novels are about rural Southerners who often get sucked into get rich quick schemes that are illegal. But people who live on society’s fringe face hardship daily and must make desperate choices.
Post’s previous works are A Tree Born Crooked, Lightwood, and Walk in the Fire. If you have already read those you respect Steph Post’s writing chops. You know her characters are lifelike down to the grit under their fingernails and the grease that doesn’t wash off their calloused hands. Her gut-wrenching scenarios present authentic dilemmas. Her settings are based on her experiences growing up in a part of Florida far removed from the resorts and amusement parks. In Post’s books the American South feels genuine down to cypress knees jutting up from the oozing mud. Snakes hide in the tall grasses and gators lurk in fowl smelling, murky waters. If you know Steph Post’s stories you have probably been waiting eagerly for the release of Miraculum, which entered our edge of the universe on 1/22/2019.
From the first page, Post grabs hold of your faculties and doesn’t let go for the duration of the strange ride that often dips into the darkness that underlies the superficial world that others, those who are invested in the systems and institutions of decent society, believe is real. Ostensibly, the story is about a carnival/circus experiencing an identity crisis as it struggles to adjust to changes in the early 1920’s. America has emerged as a major industrial power having survived intact while Europe was devastated by The Great War. To compete with other forms of entertainment for the nickels and dimes in the audience’s pockets, the circus must exhibit what people can’t find anywhere else, or at least convince them that its assortment of geeks, freaks and exotic enhancements is unique.
In the circus Ruby is the snake charmer. Most of her body is decorated with multiple tattoos – not particularly well-done ones at that. She’s a survivor and, as the story unfolds, we are privy to some of her secrets, her origins, her past relationships, and her few aspirations. We understand how much the world around her limits her life.
Daniel, a stranger, who is a study in contradiction, joins the circus as a glommering geek. Yet he always wears an immaculate and obviously expensive suit that never seems to soil. He never appears to sweat, despite the muggy heat of summer int he deep South. Apart from the side show performance, he’s urbane, well-educated, and well-traveled, leading most everyone to wonder whatever he is doing there. Of course, Daniel is attracted to Ruby but not for obvious reasons. Where he can control others, she is exempt. He finds this both frustrating and fascinating.
As always, Post breathes life into her characters with a careful eye for detail and well-tuned ear for dialogue. Her research into the period and the nuances of backstory are evident as the past collides with a present that cannot possibly be. Still, the haves shun the have nots. Shady people pop out of dark corners, trying to make a fast buck, even if it’s not completely legal. Rejected people, those who are discarded through no fault of their own, congregate in the only place that allows them to make a living, as freaks in the circus side shows.
All the elements that have made Post’s past novels visceral and gripping anchor what becomes a bizarrely compelling novel that dabbles in beliefs apart from the mainstream. Miraculum offers a weird, creepy, supernatural vibe beginning on page one. Along the way it simmers just beneath the surface while the story gains its legs. And then, it bubbles up violently toward a tumultuous and inevitable climax.
Miraculum by Steph Post
Available in eBook, Hardcover from Polis Books
Audiobook from Blackstone Publishing