Well, this was a fun romp. It's got all kinds of crazy in it: Abandoned children living in a sort of foster home run by a religious fanatic married to a drug addict; a symbiotic relationship between a girl (Ruth) and a boy (Nat) that's not sexual, but has a closeness that's almost akin to being twins, even though they're not related by blood; there's Nat's claim that he can speak to the dead; and there's the mysterious Mr. Bell, a con man of the finest order.
But that's not all. There's also a much older Ruth's niece, Cora, who is newly pregnant and at loose ends when her aunt appears out of nowhere, no longer speaking out loud, and insists (by gestures) that Cora follow her. And so they go on a momentous, months-long journey by foot; to where, Cora has no idea, since Ruth doesn't speak. Cora's baby grows, they meet all kinds of odd (and sometimes dangerous) people, before finally reaching their destination--a place where the storylines of young Ruth and older Ruth meet at last.
Oh--also there's a religious cult with the most horrifying use of drug experiences ever.
In case you can't tell, this is a tough book to summarize. There's a twist at the end that I should have seen coming, but didn't, and yet it made perfect sense. In spite of all the religious oddity/con games/supernatural elements, there's a whole lot of humanity here too--especially surrounding the nature of families, of what brings people together, of what constitutes a family unit, and the relationship between mother and daughter.
There were times when I'd get a bit frustrated at all the loose ends through the story, but by the end, I was sold. As someone on Goodreads commented, this isn't a book for people who want instant gratification--you need to stay with it. Yet I was never tempted to abandon it, so apparently I'm not quite as attached to instant gratification as I thought.
Now the burning question: Do I risk reading the author's previous books? I haven't had good luck going backwards in an author's oeuvre before. But I am tempted.