Friday, April 1, 2016

CRY FATHER by Benjamin Whitmer

Compared to other books that are placed in the "crime" section, not much action really happens in Cry Father. But it's miles away from being uneventful or boring. Thanks to Whitmer's uncanny sense of characterization and his vivid and forceful prose, this book is a standout and is more engaging than many of the popular crime novels these days. It probably shouldn't even be considered "crime." It's a portrait of two damaged men: Patterson Wells, a tree clearer in disaster zones that are just as torn apart as he is, who tries to cope with the loss of his young son by writing letters to him, and Junior, the younger son of Patterson's neighbor, a destructive drug dealer that blames his father for all that's wrong in the world. 
 The thing about grieving is how much you need to just sit still and stare, how little you need to try to figure things out. That's what's always made him like pills. It makes it easier to sit still and stare at things without trying to make sense of them.
Just like with his first novel, Pike, Whitmer's writing is exciting to read. He really knows how to set a scene and illustrate a character in efficient, unique ways so that the reader has no question where we are in the story or who we're reading about. Check out this little excerpt:
A fat man sits at the bar next to a blond, cherub-faced lady with cheeks as pink as a drugstore rose, and off in one corner a tall cowboy sleeps at one of the low bar tables underneath a whorehouse nude. It's windowless, everywhere trimmed in red vinyl, the kind of place where old jackpot rodeo riders drink away the ones they couldn't ride and the ones that walked away.
The book addresses themes of loss, bearing the pain, and the duties of fatherhood. It's about the mistakes we make and owning up to them. If you want some harsh words, hard violence and drug use, you can find some of that in this book, but that's not really the focus. The focus is on how these things are used as crutches and as consolation for our characters, and what happens when you strip all of that away and they have to focus on their problems head on. Great book.
That's what he thought back then, that children were some kind of little machines that ran on the guilt adults pumped into them. Now he knows better. Now he knows it's exactly the other way around.

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