Friday, September 26, 2014

"Cry Father"

Benjamin Whitmer was born and raised on back-to-the-land communes and counterculture enclaves ranging from Southern Ohio to Upstate New York. One of his earliest and happiest memories is of standing by the side of a country road with his mother, hitchhiking to parts unknown. Since then, he’s been a factory grunt, a vacuum salesman, a convalescent, a high-school dropout, a graduate student, a semi-truck loader, an activist, a kitchen-table gunsmith, a squatter, a college professor, a dishwasher, a technical writer and a petty thief.

His first novel, Pike, was published in America in 2010 by PM Press, and in France in 2012 by Éditions Gallmeister. Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers, a memoir co-written with Charlie Louvin, was released by Igniter Books in 2012.

Whitmer applied the Page 69 Test to his second novel, Cry Father, and reported the following:
I was actually a little nervous about applying the page 69 test to Cry Father. As Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.” Cry Father contains its fair share of all four, and I was scared I’d put off readers before they even had a chance to pick it up.

Luckily, this is what I got when I flipped to page 69:
Patterson drives the long way back from the Walmart in Alamosa, his truck bed full of supplies. After salting the stump, he hadn’t been able to think of anything left to avoid town with this morning. He drives past side roads flicking away to bleak little clusters of trailers. Over a cattle guard into ranchland, through ranging beef cows as alien in the greasewood and sagebrush as water buffalo. Smoking cigarettes and watching a bank of clouds form in the gray sky, long streaks of rain striking down on the western rim of the valley. Watching those clouds darken from gray to black.

It’s about two miles outside of San Luis that he runs across the Wild Mustang Mesa four-wheeler, abandoned by the side of the road, smoke pouring out of it. Patterson parks the truck and is walking back to take a look when Emma pulls up in the Wild Mesa Mustang truck behind him. “Is he here?” she asks, running to him.

“Not as far as I can tell,” Patterson says.
No drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity. Not even a hint. Instead, a quiet description of the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado where the novel is set. Which is perfect. The San Luis Valley is the bleeding center of the book. It’s the kind of open, spare Western landscape that’ll break your heart.

Of course, there are also hints of what’s to come. When Patterson and Emma find the man they’re looking for, that’s when Patterson’s carefully sewn-up life starts truly unraveling.

But that’s still a little ways off, only threatening.
Visit Benjamin Whitmer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue