Praise for A Curious Matter of Men with Wings
F. Rutledge Hammes is that rare new voice you run across once or maybe twice in a lifetime. His spectacular debut novel, A Curious Matter of Men with Wings soars! It is a coming of age cautionary tale about power. It’s a mystery and a love story wrapped up in humidity and pluff mud and it is as fascinating as it is addicting. In the Lowcountry things are never quite what they seem and what if all those old Gullah superstitions were true? Don’t miss this one. I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next. Congratulations, Mr. Hammes! Bravo!
Dorothea Benton Frank, New York Times Bestselling author of By Invitation Only and Same Beach, Next Year
A Curious Matter of Men with Wings is where magic comes to life in a bold story that celebrates the Gullah world of the South Carolina sea islands. With lyrical prose, the novel takes us into a hidden realm where life is still enchanted and storytelling abounds. In these pages, the transfixing Walpole family grapples with loss, the madness of grief, and ultimately healing, while surrounded by a community whose only salvation lies in the ties that bind them.
Sue Monk Kidd, New York Times Bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings
Magical realism comes to the Carolina Lowcountry in this quietly elegant debut novel by Hammes (Director, Creative Writing Program/Charleston County School of the Arts). The “men with wings” of the title is no metaphor: There are men with wings flying about, “flocks of winged men in the sky,” and they’re not angels—even if, as we learn, they helped enslaved African people escape from the rice fields of the South Carolina coast and make their way north, and they continue to help by showing where game is hiding and where wells should be dug. One white family, the Walpoles, lives among the Gullah people, and when their daughter disappears in a moment worthy of The Secret of Roan Inish, that family begins to fall to pieces. It’s the girl’s brothers, Bohicket and Ley, who try to hold things together, meanwhile hatching plots of their own to find young Dew: “Had she drowned? They couldn’t say. Or had she been kidnapped by those, uh…creatures in the sky?” Revenge will be theirs, if only they can find the answer and maybe castrate the evildoers—and if Dew in fact survived the tumble from their johnboat into the waves. The search for Dew frames much of the story, but the real virtues of this well-spun yarn are its portrayal of the dynamic of a decidedly eccentric family and revealing look inside the little-known world of the island people, whose folk beliefs date back many centuries and prove to be of help in the Walpoles’ travails. Hammes often writes with a poet’s touch (“He just stood there aghast, quietly staring down at the question-mark shape of this last and final answer”), and if the story wanders into increasingly improbable territory, it’s one for which readers will gladly suspend disbelief. A promising beginning. Readers with an interest in folklore, fantasy, and Southern letters alike will find this a treat.
Atmospheric, penetrating and imaginative, A Curious Matter of Men with Wings is a story that takes us on a journey to both the rich lands of the Sea Islands and the richer lands of the heart. With a story layered in mythology, fairy tales, and Gullah folklore, Hammes enchants. As the mystery of the Flying People unfolds, two cultures come together and show us what we can be at our very best.
Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times Bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis and The Bookshop at Water’s End
In this beautifully written debut novel, master storyteller F. Rutledge Hammes weaves an enchanting tale that’s part fable, part folklore and all magic.
Cassandra King, author of The Sunday Wife
Hammes flat-out dropped this northern boy into the mud, in with the bugs, the birds, the sweat, the salt, the booze, and, for sure, the water of coastal South Carolina. This sweaty, lovely novel is set only a couple of hundred miles from where I now sit but it may as well be another world. Or some kind of dream. Because this is a book that’s as real as a burning tree in the woods but also somehow a timeless, gauzy mystery, too, in which men fly and women can be owls. I put down this book only to wipe my brow, drink a glass of something cold, and to dream about a family and a secret little town as American and as real as any I’ve read in a long time. This is a book of secrets, mystery, water, and loss, and I’ll be thinking of these people, and their ways, until the tides stop.
Seth Sawyers, editor at the Baltimore Review
Part Southern Gothic, part magical realism, part folklore, A Curious Matter of Men with Wings is a dazzling literary debut. F. Rutledge Hammes joins the ranks of contemporaries Jennifer Egan and Daniel Wallace with his original coming of age story. Set on an isolated South Carolina barrier island, it reminds us what we all miss living indoors disconnected from the natural world. Thank you, F. Rutledge Hammes, for describing the things that matter most.
Marjory Wentworth, South Carolina Poet Laureate
A Curious Matter of Men with Wings is a deeply-felt and masterfully crafted novel about one family’s coming to terms with a sudden loss — steeped in mystery — amidst the wounds and the secret wonders of the South Carolina sea islands. It’s been a long time since a novel has lifted me off the ground like this one did. Congratulations to F. Rutledge Hammes who has written a debut that is nothing short of stunning.
Beth Webb Hart, best-selling author of Moon Over Edisto
World, meet F. Rutledge Hammes with his astonishing debut A Curious Matter of Men with Wings. In a potpourri of Southern Gothic fused with the magical, levitating elements of something Marquezian, Hammes writes in prose beautiful like Conroy, quirky like Irving as he offers up the heartrending story of the Walpole family. As eccentric as they are heartbreaking, children tell the tale, and Hammes strings his plots taut across the valley of the novel’s central mystery — the Flying Men. Gullah tradition, the aching beauty of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, a narrative voice thick as sea island humidity, this novel is unlike any I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down. Hammes writes like the angels he describes.
Sean Scapellato, Novello Literary Award finalist and contributing writer in Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy
With all the pleasures of old-fashioned storytelling, A Curious Matter of Men with Wings is a novel by a writer who knows much about the Lowcountry and much about love.
Janet Peery, National Book Award finalist and author of The River Beyond the World
If you truly want to know the Lowcountry, F. Rutledge Hammes’ A Curious Matter of Men with Wings is a uniquely wondrous must-read. Here we experience the loves, the losses, the day-to-day lives of the Gullah-Geechee folk on a barrier island off Charleston through the eyes, ears, noses, through the hearts, minds and imaginations of a family. It reminds me of Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust … That’s how good he is, and how good this book is. The language, the characters, it’s all magically evocative. Hammes is so good that readers will inhabit the minds and imaginations of these characters just as he did.
Bernie Schein, author of Famous All Over Town and If Holden Caulfield Were in My Classroom
I love the wise old storyteller voice, and Hammes’ attention to place and detail is nothing short of magical.
Sheri Reynolds, New York Times Bestselling author of Rapture of Canaan
A Curious Matter of Men with Wings is a passionate first novel by a writer who knows well the coastal waters of South Carolina, a writer who understands the ebb and flow of daily life on those islands and the moon glow of Gullah myth. The Walpole family, like the Dead clan in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, struggles to find a way to soar above heartache and grief without leaving everything they love behind. The novel imparts an important lesson — that “love enters through the door it exits.” A Curious Matter of Men with Wings tracks the road that leads from curiosity to faith and, ultimately, to love.
Michael Pearson, author of Dreaming of Columbus and Shohola Falls
A book to devour and a Lowcountry must-read. A Curious Matter of Men with Wings is a brilliant and compelling debut, an enticing lure into the lush culture of Lowcountry storytelling. With richly drawn characters and a magical island setting, this book will make you a believer in the veracity of Gullah folklore passed down for centuries. Hammes skillfully whisks the reader along the tale’s swift and shifting air currents — of love and of loss — as if on wings.
Nicole Seitz, author of The Cage-maker and The Spirit of Sweetgrass, and co-editor of Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy
If Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pat Conroy met in a bar and drank their way to dawn, the barkeep would have overheard a story that went something like this. Part family saga, part historical mythology, A Curious Matter of Men with Wings brings the magic of the Lowcountry to life. F. Rutledge Hammes has written an utterly readable and charming debut that will carry you away.
Danielle DeTiberus, SC Academy of Authors Poetry Fellow
This wonderful debut novel is a paean to the beauty, mystery and mysticism of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Drawing on Gullah legends and set among the thousands of uninhabited islands off the South Carolina coast, A Curious Matter of Men with Wings is part love story, part fable and part saga that chronicles the lives, legends and customs of the people who live on those little known islands.
J. E. Thompson, author of The Girl from Felony Bay
What a singular, weird, fascinating and satisfying book this is. A Curious Matter of Men with Wings satisfies my taste for a truly unique experience. You've never read anything like this before, I promise. It's a story that paints unexpected, but vivid, photos. Is it science fiction? Fantasy? Long-form poetry? You'll have to read to find out. The book is also impressive in its distinct portrait of the Lowcountry and lure of Gullah culture.
Marcus Amaker, Poet Laureate of Charleston, SC
A mysterious disappearance sets A Curious Matter of Men with Wings in motion, but the novel takes flight in so many ways, throwing a bright light upon sibling relationships, family secrets, first romances, and the sometimes strange and inexplicable ways we deal with loss, that it is all you can do to hang on and see where the next gorgeously-written page will take you. With more sympathy and warmth than seems fashionable in contemporary fiction, this is a book that will stay with you for a long, long time. Memorable and inventive, with energy to spare.
Anthony Varallo, author of Everyone Was There