cover image The Witches of Bellinas

The Witches of Bellinas

J. Nicole Jones. Catapult, $27 (240p) ISBN 978-1-64622-180-6

Jones (Low Country: A Memoir) conjures a Northern California cult in her beautiful and eerie debut novel. The story takes the form of a written statement by Constance “Tansy” Black, who’s locked herself into a schoolhouse in the unincorporated coastal village of Bellinas to document how her husband, Guy, came to die there not long after the couple arrived from New York City. Her account begins with Guy announcing he’d finally like to have a child, Tansy’s greatest wish, while on a visit to Bellinas in June, and talking her into staying there with him at his cousin Mia’s guest house. When the couple return the following month, they’re welcomed warmly by Mia’s wellness influencer husband, Manny, and initiated as members of his “high-vibe” Bohemian Club. The next morning, Tansy can’t remember what happened at the ceremony. It turns out life in Bellinas is far from idyllic: Mia warns Tansy not to go into the forest alone; her relationship with Guy becomes strained after he reneges on their plans to have children; and she feels taunted by the strong nightly winds that cause her to have insomnia and nausea. By late August, while on a drive outside town, Tansy remembers that Manny raped her during the initiation. Back in Bellinas, she discovers that Mia and the other women are witches who can manipulate the wind. Jones’s lyrical yet ominous prose affects a bewitching vibe of its own (“Don’t believe those who say that the fog is just fog... that the thunderheads worn by nearby mountain peaks are merely weather”). Readers will find this haunting tale is tough to shake. Agent: Stephanie Delman, Trellis Literary. (May)