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That Eerie Southern Magic

Twin sisters unravel a town’s haunting folklore in The Pecan Children

Rural Southern towns, surrounded by the wild and preserved by their isolation, can often feel a bit magical, like a place where folklore would thrive. But such isolation can also be unsettling. Robyn Barrow and Alexandra Cronin, the authors behind the pen name Quinn Connor, capture that haunting feeling perfectly in their latest novel, The Pecan Children, about a small Southern town, its eerie magic, and two sisters at the center of its spell.

Photo: Frank Walsh

Twin sisters Lil and Sasha own the most successful pecan orchard in Clearwater, a tiny community in the deep South known for its pecans. The derelict road leading into town can no longer be driven, and the farms have suffered financially because of its disrepair. Many people have sold their orchards to the greedy prospector Theon, who hounds locals into selling and then leaves their properties to ruin. He has his eyes set on the sisters’ orchard, but Lil refuses to sell.

Lil and Sasha, who were close as children, have drifted apart and resent each other. Lil wishes Sasha would help around the orchard, and Sasha feels bitter about Lil’s closer connection with their mother, who trained Lil as a child to serve the farm’s supernatural secret. A pond in the center of the orchard feeds off the golden pecans dropped from a nearby tree, but it hungers for more. Lil gives the pond the dropped pecans every day, awed by and fearful of this strange magic only she is privy to. The orchard also warns her whenever Theon comes close, and he can’t step foot on the property.

Lil and Sasha’s mother died shortly after the sisters’ high school graduation, and Lil has run the orchard ever since, while Sasha fled rural life for New York City. As a lesbian and artist, Sasha couldn’t imagine a place for herself in Clearwater, but after a breakup, she finds herself back home, now in her 30s and still dreaming about her high school crush and best friend, Autumn, who also left the small town in search of a different life.

Sasha meant for her return home to be temporary, but now she has been there for quite a while with no plans for leaving. She works odd jobs — ferrying people over the river, running local businesses when owners need to step away, and photographing abandoned orchards and homes.

When Autumn comes back to her parents’ bakery in Clearwater, Sasha’s hope of resuming city life takes another setback. The two women quickly reconnect, and Sasha shows Autumn the abandoned orchards and crumbling homes she’s been photographing. While exploring them, Autumn befriends a child who appears to have no home or parents. She recalls local folklore that claims the pecan trees sometimes produce children instead of pecans. The child tells Autumn he fears the hungry man who has stolen many of the children like him.

Lil’s high school sweetheart has also returned to Clearwater, lighting a spark of life inside her that she thought she’d long since abandoned to the orchard. Shortly after his arrival, they all begin seeing fires flickering at random around the town, then disappearing. And Theon’s wheedling for the farm grows in intensity.

Something isn’t quite right about Clearwater, and the sisters are about to find out what.

This beautifully written and atmospheric Southern gothic explores relationships and their many complications. While it does have more than a touch of horror, it feels more fabulist in its approach. Readers of Swamplandia! by Karen Russell and Starling House by Alix E. Harrow will love it.

That Eerie Southern Magic

Margaret Kingsbury is a freelance journalist, book reviewer, and editor whose work has appeared in Book Riot, School Library Journal, BuzzFeed News, Parents, The Lily, and more. She lives in Nashville. You can find her on Instagram @BabyLibrarians.