Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Joe Henry's "Lime Creek"
I read a lot of fiction. Most of it I enjoy – it can be funny, or thrilling, or entertaining, or provocative, or thoughtful, or even scary. But it’s been a long time since I read a novel I fell in love with.
A novel like Joe Henry’s Lime Creek.
It’s a story written almost poetically, what one might expect from an author who’s a lyricist and poet who’s been a laborer, rancher and even professional athlete. It’s the story of a ranching family in Wyoming, a story told in eight vignettes from different perspectives but all the same family. Spencer Davis meets Elizabeth Putnam while he’s breaking in a horse. He’s a Wyoming native while she’s from New England. They will have three boys – Lonnie, and then several years later Luke and Whitney, the two little rascals who seem to grow up into bigger rascals.
What a story this is, this story of family love, romantic love, first love and brotherly love. And life. Real life, harsh and hurtful and full of loss. It’s a story told with beautiful words.
“There were summer evenings I remember coming up from the barn after the long day’s haying, Spencer says. And seeing Elizabeth through the trees before she could see me…And I never asked her, for I was shy of her answer and maybe even a little afraid too of what she might say. Because I always knew in my heart, as the brutal winters wore on, that she suffered us our way of life. And maybe not the way of it so much as its grinding harshness.”
I knew when I reached the third chapter, the one entitled “Tomatoes,” that this book was beyond special. Luke and Whitney see the ripe red tomatoes their mother has left on the kitchen window sill. And before you can catch your breath they’ve gathered them up and rushed out the door, to do what little boys will do with ripe red tomatoes – throw them against the clean white sheets drying on the clothesline. And what happens after that is both expected and unexpected.
Small things in this family are signs for larger things, like when Whitney’s profane complaint about the cold sparks his father to suddenly grab him, shove him against the barn wall and proceed to tell him through gritted teeth what cold is really like, with a story only a scarred veteran could tell. Or what it means to put a horse down for old age. Or when an injury in a high school football game becomes an unexpected occasion for love, and brotherly love. Or how a boy sloughs off boyhood and becomes a man in a snowstorm.
There is so much truth and beauty in Lime Creek that I almost couldn’t stand it. But I did.
Love is like that.