Thursday, May 7, 2009

Crying with Them Crickets

Tuesday morning, I finished Charles Martin's When Crickets Cry. Published three years ago, the novel (subtitled "A Novel of the Heart") is the story of Reese Mitch, a guy doing carpentry and contruction work who buys a glass of lemonade on a street corner from a little girl named Annie. Annie parents are dead, and she lives with her aunt, Cindy McReedy. Some of Annie's lemonade money blows into the street, she runs to get it, and is hit by a truck. And Reese's life is never the same.

Gradually, Martin tells two stories. One is Annie's. She's 11 years old and needs a new heart. The other story is Reese's. Gradually the reader learns that Reese is something far more than what he appears to be. And he's never recovered from the loss of his wife Emma, who died waiting for a heart transplant. Reese lives near Emma's brother Charlie; Charlie is blind for reasons that only eventually become clear.

When Crickets Cry is fully recognizable as a Charles Martin book. His writing is about place, and place is almost always a main character in itself in his stories. His novels are about broken people, people seeking healing and redemption. There are always surprises, twists and turns. There's usually a child in there somewhere. And often physical illness.

But for all of the recognizable signs, his novels are not formulaic. The Dead Don't Dance and Maggie are about a couple trying to have a child. Wrapped in Rain is a story of two brothers, half-brothers, actually, each dealing and trying to overcome a childhood of abuse. Chasing Fireflies is about family secrets and a man's awful longing for a father he never knew. And then there's this novel, When Crickets Cry.

The writing is powerful, achingly so. The reader feels Reese's pain and Annie's desire for life. The characters, all of them, are drawn true -- you recognize and know these people, and more than that, you care about them. And while you learn a lot about the human heart as a physical entity, you also understand that it is far more than that.

Yes, I cried with the crickets.

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