Book Review: The Devil’s Sinkhole

The follow-up to The Devil's Backbone is not only another wild ride but more proof that Bill Wittliff is a master storyteller

<i>The Devil’s Sinkhole</i>

Bill Wittliff's boy named Papa is back for more picaresque adventures through 1880s Central Texas in The Devil's Sinkhole, his follow-up to 2014's The Devil's Backbone. Both books are named for actual Texas geographical locations that prove central to the plot. Both are propelled forward by a folksy narrator and a quest. Both are exquisite, magical, and fun reads inspired by the stories the author heard in childhood.

Papa and his philosophical cowboy pal Calley Pearsall are trying to avoid Pelo Blanco, a noose-wearing force of vengeance intent on killing every living family member of the men who hung his father, including Papa's already-dead evil father Old Karl. The Wild Woman of the Navidad, a Texas folk legend of a runaway slave that Wittliff encountered as a boy from J. Frank Dobie's writings, also plays a major role here, as do the mysterious Shimmery People. Wittliff has deep thoughts lurking as well: "... they ain't nothing got a Right Place in the World cause Ever Thing is just a Part of Ever Thing else," Papa wisely states. "It's all just one Big One Together." For Wittliff, a big part of the tale is how we form nontraditional families. We are, indeed, all in this together, and it's a wild ride that earns comparisons of the book to Mark Twain's writings. Not only a good yarn, the novel is aided by the expressive artwork of Joe Ciardiello, whose images both rival and match in tone those that Jack Unruh, who died earlier this year, used to illustrate the first book in the trilogy. Some tag Wittliff a screenwriter; others see him as a master photographer or a publisher of fine books. It's time to call him a novelist and a master storyteller. Now, where's book three?

The Devil’s Sinkhole

by Bill Wittliff
UT Press, 213 pp., $29.95

Bill Wittliff will speak about The Devil’s Sinkhole on Sat., Nov. 5, 10:30am, in Capitol Extension Room E2.014.

More Texas Book Festival
Texas Book Festival 2017
Texas Book Festival 2017
Lovers of the literary, you’re needed at the Capitol for this year’s TBF, stat!

Robert Faires, Nov. 3, 2017

<i>Uncommon Type: Some Stories</i>
Uncommon Type: Some Stories
A funny and creative short fiction debut that’s strong in portraying male characters but thin where the women are concerned

Elizabeth Banicki, Nov. 3, 2017

More Bill Wittliff
Telling Stories
Telling Stories
Wittliff seeks the "yes" in his debut novel, The Devil's Backbone

Joe O'Connell, Dec. 5, 2014

<i>The Devil's Backbone</i>
The Devil's Backbone
Bill Wittliff's debut novel is a picaresque tale with a "Lucky Heart"

Joe O'Connell, Dec. 5, 2014

More Arts Reviews
Esther's Follies: The Laughs, the Gossip, and the Story Behind Texas' Most Celebrated Comedy Troupe
Esther's Follies: The Laughs, the Gossip, and the Story Behind Texas' Most Celebrated Comedy Troupe
In his history of Esther's, author Jesse Sublett follows the flow of four decades of frivolity

Robert Faires, Dec. 1, 2017

<i>Murder Ballads</i>
Murder Ballads
This blues-infused crime thriller suggests a number of Dangerous Things to Do Outside Shreveport Until You’re Dead

Wayne Alan Brenner, Nov. 24, 2017

More by Joe O'Connell
<i>The Son</i> Rises With Philipp Meyer
The Son Rises With Philipp Meyer
Austin author on adapting his award-winning novel for AMC

April 7, 2017

SXSW Film Review: <i>David Lynch – The Art Life</i>
SXSW Film Review: David Lynch – The Art Life
Doc excavates the creative mind of the eccentric artist

March 14, 2017


Texas Book Festival, Texas Book Festival 2016, Bill Wittliff, The Devil's Backbone

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)