Not really sure what to make of this one! It’s a slow build that’s a bit bizarre, cryptic, and mysterious. I wouldn’t say it was dull (there’s some juicy stuff in there and quite a bit of body horror) but the presentation is almost… blunted? The protagonists’ point of view is a hard one to crack into because of her personality, how she thinks, and how she speaks. Let’s get into it so I can explain.
The official synopsis within the jacket of Follow Me to Ground reads:
“Ada and her father, touched by the power to heal illness, live on the edge of a village where they help sick locals—or “Cures”—by cracking open their damaged bodies or temporarily burying them in the reviving, dangerous Ground nearby. Ada, a being both more and less than human, is mostly uninterested in the Cures, until she meets a man named Samson. When they strike up an affair, to the displeasure of her father and Samson’s widowed, pregnant sister, Ada is torn between her old way of life and new possibilities with her lover—and eventually comes to a decision that will forever change Samson, the town, and the Ground itself.”
From this description, I was reminded of the film Them That Follow, and thought maybe some of that similar energy would be in this slim novel. To an extent it was, but notably while that film is grounded in terrifying reality, Follow Me to Ground is more surreal with elements of magic involved, while still touching on very human concepts and issues (as with anything).
The surreal elements to this novel (the healing by cracking people open by hand and singing to remove ills, as well as both the healing and dangerous elements to the patches of ground by their house, not to mention the inception of Ada and her father to begin with) certainly made it an interesting story with a cool concept. I also thought adding short little perspectives and memories from humans who have had encounters with Ada and her father rounded out the history and their sense of place within the life of the nearby town. Unfortunately, however, the weirdness and magical elements made everything hard to understand at times. What were they really doing when healing? How did it work? What is the ground and what is it actually doing? I’ll admit that as reading went on it became easier to grasp certain aspects of the life of Ada and her father, but in such a short novel, taking so much time having to ease in and try and wrap your head around what’s happening doesn’t exactly do a good service to the story. Even at the end, however, I still don’t get it, and I’m not someone who thinks they always need everything spelled out for them, but lately I’m wondering if maybe I do… am I genuinely dumb??
Also, Ada is not quite a human being, and her demeanor is thereby shown to be very stiff. She has certain thoughts and ideas present to try and show how she is different from the average human being, but these thoughts and expressions really just made her come across as cryptic, vague, and not exactly easy to follow at times. I felt like I needed a decoder to get at what she was actually trying to say, or what I was supposed to be experiencing. Follow me to ground? Girl, I’m trying!
Furthermore, there is a bit of a “twist” reveal included at the end of the novel, and it’s one I very much don’t like. Really, we couldn’t have thought of something else? In particular, how this issue is presented certainly taps on the complexities of human emotions, but having it right smack at the end of the novel doesn’t give the topic any room to breathe. If there is no time to examine what has been revealed, then it feels like a twist for a twist’s sake. And quite frankly, it telegraphed itself incredibly early in the novel, so it’s not like there couldn’t have been more of an examination than what was given within the last couple of pages of the book.
Ultimately, despite the interesting concept, the writing of this novel just made it too hard to get into. The stiffness of the not-quite-human protagonist felt like I was being kept at arm’s length, never being quite let in to what was going on or what I should be feeling at any given time. Because of this, the impact just wasn’t there throughout the reading of the novel, though clocking in at just 200 pages, it was not exactly difficult to get through for anyone who is curious.