Patrik Henry Bass of Essence Magazine reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
From Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson's pensive portrait of a post-industrial town to Peyton Place, Grace Metallious' Eisenhower Era blockbuster about the eyebrow-raising events in a seemingly sleepy New England village, memorable novels about place allow the endlessly curious among us to eavesdrop into the interior lives of people we may never meet or know in hamlets we will never visit.
"Friendswood," the spectacular new novel by Rene Steinke, accomplishes something more.
There is a real Friendswood, Texas, which in 2007 was voted by CNN/Money as one of the Best 100 Places to Live. But try telling that to Lee, one of a half-dozen characters or more who share their stories of shattered dreams and broken trust in a town that Lee and her friends have called home for generations.
It is both Lee and a hurricane that literally blow the roof off of the town’s close-knit, tightly woven facade. Her friends in the novel will tell you that for some time Lee has not been herself. That is, not since her beloved teenage daughter died of a blood disease. Lee suspects her daughter’s death was a result of exposure to hazardous chemicals dumped from a nearby refinery site.
In Steinke’s hands, Lee feels real. And so does a hurricane that rips through the town and uproots more than just trees. Steinke’s natural disaster is a catalyst to move many Friendswood residents to face uncomfortable truths about themselves and their town that they would prefer to avoid. But the truth does catch up with them and is revealed in unforgettable ways that feels, well, real. Uncomfortably real.
Like a painter, Steinke draws stunning scenes of small town Texas life: Ranch houses. Friday night football games. Church fundraisers. Like Sherwood, Ohio or Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, Friendswood is also a vision of modern American life. This is American life in the aftermath of the YouTube storm chasers, beyond the sound bite and the year-end visitation of a community center rebuilt or a dislocated family finding a home on morning shows.
But Steinke’s narrative isn’t a picture of a bleak house. Friendswood is ultimately a story about hope and American character from a novelist who has delivered one of the best books of the summer.