Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lots of Time to Read, Few Brain Cells to Concentrate

As some of you know, I have spent the past week at Carolina's Medical Center where my husband had valve replacement surgery. This post isn't about that, since anyone who knows us know where to find updates (good news over all). Ironically, with a lot of time spent waiting, I have done less reading than I would have expected. (The same goes for paper grading.) Concentration hasn't been my strong suit. Interruptions are par for the course.

Still, I finished the audiobook I had in the car, Bill O'Reilly's Killing Lincoln, my October book club selection Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret, Alison Kemper's second YA novel Dead Over Heels, and a nonfiction work Suitcase Filled with Nails: Lssons Learned Teaching Art in Kuwait by Yvonne Pepin Wakefield.  Meanwhile, I am turning to the appropriate chapters in The Patient' Guide to Valve a Replacement Surgery.

I will post my response to each when I get settled in. For now, I must decide what to read next while we continue to "hurry up and wait."

Monday, October 6, 2014

Who's Minding the Children?

My first introduction to Smith Henderson's Fourth of July Creek came via a recommendation by Wiley Cash, who had appeared as our featured author during the Laurette LePrevost Writers Symposium here at the college where I teach.  Since Cash's books feature dark, evil characters, I wasn't expecting moonlight and rosebuds.  I never actually wish for moonlight and rosebuds.

Before I could make up my mind, the book appeared on my doorstep as my Lemuria First Editions Book Club selection, and my own book club decided to read it.

The novel set just as Reagan is elected president, focuses on Pete Snow, a social worker in Tenmile, Montana, a very small, very rural community with a fair share of hard cases.  Henderson opens the novel as Snow arrives to help police sort out a domestic disturbance, and he finds one of the children on his case load handcuffed beside his mother after both of them were separated during a vicious physical fight.  Cecil, the teenage son, poses a great challenge to Snow, but he feels equal concerned for the little sister he finds hiding in her closet upstairs.

As he tries and fails over and over to put Cecil into a better home situation, even the kindest foster parents find themselves pushed beyond their limits. 

Then a young boy, suffering from malnourishment and inadequately dressed for the cold weather, is brought to Pete's attention.  Benjamin Pearl, Snow learns, lives in the woods with his father Jeremiah, a religious fanatic waiting on the world to end, hammering holes through the heads of presidents on coins he then circulates through the surrounding towns. 

Concerned about Benjamin, Pete works to gain Jeremiah's trust, while also keeping his own brother's whereabouts from the Parole Officer his brother assaulted.  As Henderson's protagonist, though, Snow is no simple idealistic do-gooder. Interspersed chapters reveal the whereabouts of his young teenaged daughter Rachel (who prefers to be called Rose), told to an unidentified interrogator. As she leaves for Texas with her mother, separated from Pete after her adultery, she ends up living with little parenting and disappears from home--"wyoming" she calls it--prompting her mother to call Pete for help finding her.

Pete's own back story reveals his evident tendency to alcoholism and violence.  When he begins a relationship with Mary, another social worker, he learns that she carries around even more emotional baggage than he does. 

Never heading toward a storybook ending, Henderson's characters are left, instead, looking for a best-case scenario, or at least the lesser of two--or more--evils.