Two quiet stories that pack a punch
Sometimes plans just don't work out the way we had planned. Even in making our reading selections, we can be surprised in a story's layout, characters or conclusion. A couple of weeks ago, I brought home a stack of books that I thought had an exciting thriller component to the story line. The first book I picked up to read was "Bent Road" by Lori Roy. It had won an Edgar Award for Best New Novel and was recommended as suspenseful.
When I first started reading it, I enjoyed the colorful descriptions and the tension between the thoughts of the main characters. I was sure that the nail-biting part was just around the corner, but halfway through the book, I was still reading about everyday life in 1960s Kansas. Don't get me wrong — this wasn't bad — just unexpected.
The story circles around Arthur and Celia Scott and their family. After growing up in Kansas and enduring the tragedy of losing his sister, Arthur moves to Detroit to start fresh and begin his career. He marries Celia, and they have three children, a lovely home and a "proper" lifestyle. Then the race riots begin. Arthur is alarmed by the fires, the unrest and the attention his teenage daughter receives from boys.
So he packs his family up and moves to his hometown in Kansas. Poor Celia has to adjust to a whole new way of life. Living on a farm is something she hadn't planned on, and she doesn't know the new customs of cooking, cleaning and child care. Her mother-in-law is overly eager to teach her all she needs to know, but she misses her friends and her quiet life.
To complicate matters, Arthur is hiding something about his sister's mysterious death, and suddenly a young girl goes missing. Oddly enough, the girl looks almost identical to Arthur's sister and their daughter Evie — same white-blonde hair, same petite body frame, same age.
I'm thinking that now things are going to heat up. And they do, in a quiet, almost unnoticeable way. The mystery builds, but so does the tension between family members. The mother-in-law continues to harass Celia. The teenage daughter meets and dates a farm boy. The son starts stealing his father's rifle to practice shooting with a disabled friend and his gang of older brothers. And the youngest daughter, who looks just like her deceased aunt, becomes obsessed with the aunt's former life. She wears her dresses, goes through her photographs and fails to make friends her own age at school.
All together, the book is quiet. The reader becomes so involved with the workings of the Scott family that we forget that there's a big suspenseful theme going on. Be patient. Enjoy the story. Wait for the end.
Another quiet book that packs a punch is "Feather Crowns" by Bobbie Ann Mason. It is 1900, and the times are turbulent. Americans are looking for signs of the end of the world as the century turns. At the center of the story is Christianna Wheeler. Amidst the fanatical revivals juxtaposed with the poverty of a hardscrabble life in Kentucky, Christianna becomes pregnant. She feels that there is something wrong with the baby, as he's constantly kicking, rolling and jabbing — almost violently. She has strange nightmares and fears for the life of both her baby and herself.
Eventually, earlier than she should, Christianna goes into labor. After hours upon hours of painful childbirth, she delivers not one — but five babies — virtually unheard of in North America. Her life changes abruptly as she's thrust into the media spotlight, and the reader anxiously waits to see what happens to this seemingly miraculous family.
Since it's still cold outside and all of our springtime chores have yet to begin, take some time to enjoy some quiet stories with evocative and colorful descriptions of life, family and the tensions therein.
Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.