Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chris Fabry's "Dogwood"

In October 2007, my wife and I drove to Williamsburg for vacation. We spent almost exactly one week (had a great time), and then drove back to St. Louis. Crossing over the mountains of Virginia (and discovering what it’s like to drive in mountain fog), we arrived in West Virginia at the absolute peak of the fall colors. And it was spectacular. We’d never seen fall colors like those in West Virginia – and the colors went on for scores of miles. The state is an incredibly beautiful place.

It is that sense of place that permeates Chris Fabry’s Dogwood – the hills and valleys, the vistas, the back roads, and even the colors infuse the novel. And – no surprise – West Virginia is the author's native state.

Fabry is best known for writing novels for children and young adults. Last year, he shifted gears, and published Dogwood, aimed squarely at adult readers. And glad I am that he did.

It's a great story. Or more correctly, Dogwood is a carefully constructed layering of stories. It is the story of Will Hatfield, who’s gone to prison for manslaughter – killing two little girls in what was almost a hit-and-run. It’s the story of Karin, Will’s great love, who has created a new life for herself, with a husband who’s a pastor and three children. It’s the story of Danny Boyd, whose two sisters died when Will’s car struck them, and Ruthie, their grandmother who befriends Karin. Then there’s the town of Dogwood, which will not forgive Will when he’s released from prison and returns for one reason alone – because he still loves Karin. There’s the undercurrent of lawlessness and viciousness. And then there’s place and memory, which are characters in their own right.

The story of what happened when the little girls died is the heart of the novel, and Fabry uses it to structure the plot, gradually unfolding the individual but intertwined stories of the characters. As memories melt away the intervening years and the characters tell and live their stories, facts become less certain, nothing is what it appears to be, and something new is born.

I started reading Dogwood on Good Friday and finished it Easter Sunday. Like this time of the year we celebrate, Fabry’s novel is one of sacrifice, death and resurrection.

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