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Gone Girl

Shadows of Pecan Hollow

Shadows of Pecan Hollow
by Caroline Frost

New York: Harper Collins, 2023.
432 pp. $18.99 Paperback.

Reviewed by
Katelyn Hammack

Kit was thirteen when she ran away from foster care and into the arms of Manny Romero. He was older, mysterious, dangerous. He gave her something she had never had before, a sense of belonging. Manny stole Kit’s heart. He was good at that—stealing. She soon learned to live in Manny’s shadow. Groomed and coddled, she never questioned his intentions until his demeanor began to change. Manny trained Kit in the art of robbery, and they soon made a name for themselves, the Texaco Twosome. But Kit had a secret. A secret she would later name Charlie. When their robbery spree of 1976 ended, Manny was behind bars, and Kit was left alone again, only this time with a baby. Kit and Charlie found themselves in Pecan Hollow, a small Texas town. Even with the constant whispering of rumors and speculations about Kit and Charlie, it’s still quiet enough to hear the cicadas sing. It’s a slow town where nothing happens until Manny shows up, fresh from prison and a changed man. He appears on Kit’s doorstep, catalyzing a series of reckonings for Kit and her community. Frost masterfully demonstrates that while a hollow may appear tranquil, secrets always rest in the soil, waiting to be stirred.  

  Caroline Frost’s debut novel Shadows of Pecan Hollow draws inspiration from her experience as a licensed marriage and family therapist to grapple with complex family narratives. While the narrative takes place in a picturesque town, the plot never strays from dark places. Her prose demonstrates a delicate balance between graphic detail and lyrical digressions. Not only is Frost’s writing moving, but her focus on feminine strength, vulnerability, and redemption will resonate with readers, especially women. She illuminates the differences and intersections between familial and romantic intimacy, reminding us all that relationships are opportunities to enact tenderness. 

  Frost illustrates authenticity in her characters. It is easy to read Kit as an all too familiar character, a “down on her luck” woman who is striving to give her child a better life, but Frost’s reanimation of this popular trope strikes understanding into her readers. Her characters are not clichés, but individuals with heartbreaking stories who deserve consideration. Despite starting anew in a monotonous place, Kit does not succumb to the humdrum. She retains her fierceness and refuses to cultivate routine intimacies with the community of Pecan Hollow. Kit interacts with neighbors when she must, aware of the gossip that falls from their lips about her and Charlie. Frost’s heroine makes no attempt to remedy her situation. She was not raised with kindness and empathy; therefore, she struggles to share it with others. The relationship between Kit and her daughter is often strained, creating tension within the household, not just outside of it.  

   Shadows of Pecan Hollow is not a gentle read. This novel details scenes of violence and abuse. The feelings and thoughts of the characters are palpable, visceral. In works of literature, gratuitous violence is a fine line to tow for any writer. It is recommended that readers approach each chapter of this novel cautiously should this kind of material create discomfort. While Frost’s characters are memorable, the book loses its vigor near the end. Though the author’s prose has its dazzling moments, there are some that dare I say encourage skimming. Overall, this book might appeal to fans of a darker, more gothic depiction of the South like that of Delia Owens or William Faulkner. Caroline Frost has demonstrated how Southern fiction can harm and hold in this debut novel. Her words babble, sink, and flow—just like the muddy waters of a certain hollow.

Katelyn Hammack, a poet residing in central Texas, is pursuing her Master of Arts in Literature at Texas State University. With a deep-rooted passion for medieval literature and a dedicated trade as a poet, she devotes her free time to writing verses, immersing herself in literature, tending to her plants, and cherishing moments with her partner and their pets.