CAVE MOUNTAIN de Benjamin Hale

Benjamin Hale looks into his own family lore to tell the non-fiction stories of two young girls, the Arkansas wilderness, and the strange things that connect them.

by Benjamin Hale
Harper, Fall 2025
(via DeFiore & Company)

© Pete Mauney

Six-year-old Haley, Ben’s second cousin, was out for a hike with her grandparents when she became lost in the vast Arkansas wilderness. The child was lost for three days, and was the subject of an enormous manhunt, with regional media frenzy. She was ultimately found by two local men on mules, who ignored the common wisdom of police and the FBI which would never have led to the girl.

Days later, when calmly back in her parents’ arms, the girl told of the ‘friend’ who helped her find her way through the woods. An apparition clearly not real, but also real enough to show her the way to safety, tell stories with her, keep her calm.

Twenty years earlier, in the same remote spot in the wilderness, a local game warden was out hunting turkeys with a friend when they came across a group of people “acting kinda funny.”

He ran their plates and discovered there was a subpoena out for their arrest. The county sheriff arrived, the people were arrested, and soon the body of a young girl was found nearby, victim of a fundamentalist cult. The similarity between Haley’s description of the apparition, and the murdered girl, is unnerving and extraordinary.

Ben tells the story of both girls—the lost girl with the loving family, and the other who ends up a tragic sacrifice—and how their stories intersect. It’s a story about the arrogance of authority. It’s a story about nature and survival. It’s a story about police, and police corruption, and infighting within police and sheriff’s departments between corrupt and honest actors. Part of it is a courtroom drama. It’s a story about family. It’s a story about the South. It’s a story about religion, about skepticism and faith, getting lost and being found, sin and redemption. It’s ghost story. And it’s a detective story with several different detectives in it, including Benjamin Hale himself, researching the story, retracing the steps of the people involved and putting it all together.

Ben’s fiction has been called “an absolute pleasure,” (The New York Times) “a book to screech and howl about, [an] audacious first novel” (The Washington Post), and “a lively page-turner that asks the big questions head on… a noisy, audacious and promising debut.” His narrative non-fiction rises to the same storytelling level and will be a major dramatic and surprising book about family, faith, and redemption.

Benjamin Hale is the author of the novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore (Twelve, 2011) and the collection The Fat Artist and Other Stories (Simon & Schuster, 2016). He has received the Bard Fiction Prize, a Michener-Copernicus Award, and nominations for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award. His writing (both fiction and nonfiction) has appeared, among other places, in Conjunctions, Harper’s Magazine, the Paris Review, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Dissent and the LA Review of Books Quarterly, and has been anthologized in Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013. He is a senior editor of Conjunctions, teaches at Bard College, and lives in a small town in New York’s Hudson Valley.

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