The Witches of Ruidoso
By John Sandoval
Piñata Books • 2013 • 120 pages
Trade Paperback ($12.95)
14 and up
Elegiac, elegant and understated, Sandoval’s short novel about a boy’s first love, set in the 1890s in Ruidoso, New Mexico, is a beauty to behold. Elijah looks back from an advanced age to his youth, when Beth Delilah and her father moved to the then tiny town and took over her uncle’s general store. Both young people are motherless, but Beth Delilah has the additional burden—or gift—of sensing things that others don’t. She also has seizures that bring her, she says, to a “forbidden territory.”
Read Related: Hammer of Witches
“It’s like touching a tiger with your eyes closed when you do not know that it’s a tiger,” she says. This statement is indicative of the quiet poeticism of Sandoval’s writing, especially when it touches on Elijah’s erotic awakening—tenderly in the case of his adoration of Beth Delilah and with deep dread at the advances of Señora Roja, locally reputed to be both a curandera and a witch. The youngsters come into conflict with the healer when they learn of an allegedly possessed girl who has been delivered into her power. The healer and her subject’s violent ends counterpoint the more peaceful death of Beth Delilah, which haunts Elijah for the rest of his very long life.
Tragic and lovely, The Witches of Ruidoso is, sadly, Sandoval’s only novel, published posthumously.
—Reviewed by Coop Renner, Retired Librarian: El Paso Independent School District