Gideon's Curse: A Novel of Old Mill, NC Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
Just after the Civil War, a preacher named Gideon Swayne journeyed south from Random, Illinois to minister to the newly freed slaves. In the bitter prejudice of North Carolina, and the magic of the Great Dismal Swamp, he made a home...that home was taken from him in hatred, and in violence.
The Pope plantation is mired in the "old ways", migrants work their land so they don't have to get their hands too dirty. There are older ways than the Pope family, built on slave labor and mired in their own past, can imagine. Their farm hand, Gideon, has seen his mother's reflection in the slime-pools of the bog. He's heard his grandfather, the first Gideon at Preacher's Marsh, chanting on the night breeze. He has seen eyes, glowing green and glittering with hatred, lining the trees along the fields and peering from the trees. He has heard voices like drumbeats chanting in the night. The dead are rising, and they are coming. Soon.
Gideon's Curse is a novel of history. It's a novel of freedom, slavery, magic, and romance. It's a glance into the violent past of the Deep South and the hope of a better future.
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Divided into three parts, the story revolves around the Pope plantation in North Carolina. Gideon Swayne, the operational plantation manager, wishes to mind his own business but through a series of events he is plunged into the suspected murder of a young female migrant worker.
The novel then transports the reader back in time where they are introduced to a number of generational members of the Swayne family. His grandfather, a Christian minister, falls in love with a African-American woman who has deep ties to a supernatural way of life.
Overshadowing the narrative of the second part of the book is the manner in which the individuals of color are treated and who are considered less than human. An ultimate cruel and inhumane tragedy occurs.
The novel then fast forwards the reader to the present day where a surprise ending awaits along with the undead seeking their revenge.
Gideon's Curse by David Niall Wilson is novel that grabs the imagination, the heart and the senses of the reader and does not let go.
The story is set in post emancipation NC, on a cotton growing Plantation run by Enoch Pope and his sons. The composition is pretty predictable: ex-slaves (still slaving); affinity to cotton planting and harvesting; a swamp context (mysterious and educational); estate owner and sons; a negro overseer whose main duty was to keep the estate economy running smoothly; love and hatred; rape, murder, and secrets.
The core story is about the arrival of a white preacher (Gideon Swayne) from Illinois in a small village (?) where there are already two churches run by white preachers. Amidst objections, he completes his perceived mission to build a church for the spiritual development of Negroes and immigrants. He is beaten almost to a pulp and dumped in the cotton fields where he is found by the workers, and brought back to health by an eccentric lady, Desdemona, a healer (he calls her ‘swamp witch’) with more affinity to the swamp environment than to his concept of traditional God. They fall in love and are ‘married’ and have two children, Gideon and Desdemona.
Gideon (2) beats up Bart Pope, a white bully to the consternation of the people in the camps as they expect a dangerous response. The church is set afire resulting in the fiery deaths of all inside, including Gideon Swayne. His wife had taken her children to the swamp; her husband refused to join her. Her daughter, Desdemona, goes back to the camp because her lover remained, and got raped in the cotton fields, the current owner of Pope Plantation forced to participate.
A shootout occurs from both sides, but the battle is carried by mysterious slime figures of the swamp, acting independently. Most of the white sons die, as do many of the migrants. The story closes with Gideon the Overseer receiving a closely guarded secret from Enoch. He rescues a white survivor which stands him in good stead with the authorities. But the irony of him going scot-free when white men died, leads to his banishment from Old Mill to start over his life elsewhere.
This is a well written and well-crafted book, easily read. I liked the rippling of this passage: “There was a rush of energy— not wind, exactly, though it fanned the flames, but something that washed over him and heated his skin. He felt as if the flames ate at his skin from within, but it wasn’t pain, it was sensation. It wasn’t death, it was a birth, a new life, a thing he’d never imagined, and dreamed of every night of his life in some dark moment between lucidity and prayer But the above passage belies the fast pace with which the story is grippingly told.
One problem I has in the later part of the book was some confusion as to ‘who-was- who’ with the same names (Gideon and Desdemona) being handed down.
Impressive credentials for a writer who has specialized in horror stories – of course, that genre is one of the most popular escapisms for the irreparably chaotic world we all inhabit at present. It is refreshing to see why David shares his biographical data so freely. He is a guitarist and he is a poet, a trait that spills over most pages of this lyrical tale of the world gone wrong for most of his characters. In a fine dedication David states the important background for this novel: ‘The things that are happening in the political climate of our country, contrasted with the too-similar events of Frederick Douglass’ amazing life, gave me a new appreciation and perspective. I think I did the time period justice. I hope I did. I hope, also, that this book shows my hope that things can get better, side-by-side with my understanding that we have not progressed as far as most of us believe. That said, this book is dedicated to the men and women who lived, loved, and died in the cotton fields of North Carolina. To the notion that race, gender, religious beliefs and bigotry cannot be allowed to separate men and women from one another. I dedicate this book to Frederick Douglass, and those who have fought for equality and freedom since time immemorial. And zombies... because I said I’d never write a zombie novel.’
Ad so the story is outlined as follows; ‘Just after the Civil War, a preacher named Gideon Swayne journeyed south from Random, Illinois to minister to the newly freed slaves. In the bitter prejudice of North Carolina, and the magic of the Great Dismal Swamp, he made a home... that home was taken from him in hatred, and in violence. The Pope plantation is mired in the "old ways," migrants work their land so they don't have to get their hands too dirty. There are older ways than the Pope family, built on slave-labor and mired in their own past can imagine. Their farm hand, Gideon has seen his mother’s reflection in the slime-pools of the bog. He’s heard his great-grandfather, the first Gideon at Preacher’s Marsh, chanting on the night breeze. He has seen eyes, glowing green and glittering with hatred, lining the trees along the fields and peering from the trees. He has heard voices like drumbeats chanting in the night. The dead are rising, and they are coming. Soon.’
Tense, terse and terrifying, David has composed yet another gripping novel that carries with it some very important reiterations of history to which we should all absorb. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, June 17
It is a novel about the horrors of slavery as told with the caveat of also being a zombie and ghost story. I'm glad for the latter because, disturbingly, the book might not have been able to be read without the level of the supernatural to make the truly disturbing elements more palatable. There's also a layer of reality to what is being talked about which makes the fictional events all the more disturbing and I don't just mean the fact America's Peculiar Institution is not Gone with the Wind or even Django but something infinitely worse.
The framing device of the book is that the Pope Plantation is an anachronism in the modern day. A haunted spooky place with only a few descendants of its former slave lords still using human trafficking, albeit migrant workers, to keep planting even as the woods are full of unnatural things.
A curse akin to the one in Silent Hill hangs over the place where the population continues to labor despite they'd probably be better off anywhere else on Earth. When the last two men of the accursed family kidnap a teenage girl to rape, the terrible curse comes to fruition with a man named Gideon relaying the terrible history of the place to the girl's family. A curse about a preacher who came to the plantation in the aftermath of the Civil War in hopes of missioning to the former slaves and who ends up bringing down the wrath of God or at least his distant cousins.
The heart of the book is the story of Reverend Gideon and his relationship with the former slave Desdemona, who is a sort of shaman or priestess to the locals. It's a love story but the kind of which Stephen King would tell as Gideon finds himself losing his Christian faith (or perhaps expanding it) as he finds himself confronted with the reality of the supernatural. This, however, layered against the fact he is acting upon a empathy and desire to touch the divine which is innate to how the religion should work.
This isn't a fuzzy feel good story about a white man and a black woman overcoming the odds, however, but how something good gets destroyed. The locals don't take well to Gideon, his ideas, being in a relationship with a black woman, or the fact he's organizing the locals even under the auspices of ministering. The idea a terrible thing happens is not a spoiler as we know it will happen but how it does is extremely well-handled with
the climax being extraordinarily well-written.
It's difficult really to describe what kind of horror this book embodies since it's a kind of weird morality play that exists in the penumbra between Twilight Zone Christian morality along with Lovecraftian maltheist malevolence. The supernatural is real, arguably impersonal, and God's power seems limited to how it makes his followers feel. Yet, it is the humans who are the monsters and who bring down their doom on themselves.
I heartily recommend this book for fans who are interested in Southern Gothic horror stories.
Slavery is a huge part of America's culture, and it doesn't get sugarcoated at all. Instead, Wilson pulls back the curtain and shows some of the truly horrible and disturbing things that happened during that time - these are not the stories that you typically hear. These are the stories that will have your hair standing up on the back of your neck and your stomach working into knots.
The plotline itself focuses on Pope Plantation, a haunted plantation that still has some highly illegal activity occurring throughout its halls. A former slave holder is the main antagonist (and a sort of protagonist as well). Everyone in this plantation continues to work as hard as they ever have, even though it isn't clear if they would have to continue. Reverend Gideon is a central point of the store, and it focuses on his relationship with his former slave, Desdemona. This isn't a story that is rare, though you don't see a romanticized version of it.
There is a lot here that is hard to swallow and digest, with some vivid imagery of truly horrible things. It is well written and meaningful but tough at times, because we start to question human morality.