Second, thank you to Howard Frank Mosher, who absolutely made my day. I was gifted some wise professional advice many years ago, the gyst being that if I ignore the good stuff that's written about me, it makes any bad stuff easier to ignore. Wise words. Books and writing are largely subjective and life is short. I am happy if you like my words, but it's okay if you don't. (There are books I didn't enjoy reading, too.)
My book is little. It was meant to be. But, when my words prompt a reader to react in such a poignant way--when that reader really gets what I was trying to achieve, it feels fantastic.
Challenge: Write a note of appreciation, because this made my day:
Maybe there's something about Aroostook County, Maine, that Rhetta Ballou,
the 35-year-old heroine of Shonna Milliken Humphrey's wondrous first novel, Show
Me Good Land, doesn't understand. If so, however, I can't imagine what it might
be. Though she fled "The County" 20 years ago, and currently works as a
university research fellow, Rhetta is still, at heart, "just an Aroostook County
girl." So when her mother summons her home to attend the bedside of a cousin
near death from a methamphetamine-induced infection, Rhetta hops in her car and
heads north. Most of Humphrey's story unfolds through Rhetta's recollections
during her ensuing 6-hour drive from Portland, up into the land of pointed fir
trees, rushing rivers, sandy potato fields, and endlessly intertwined families.
What Rhetta comes to understand best, as, one by one by one, she confronts
her often-hilarious, yet always-tragic, memories of her incredibly extended
Ballou family, is her own inextricable ties to the remote northern New England
frontier that, like it or not, shaped her into the wonderfully
independent-minded yet emotionally vulnerable person she has become. She may
have left behind the interminable winters, the mud season that passes for
spring, the hardscrabble labor of the annual potato harvest, the high-school and
small-town cliques and class-warfare, the family feuds, even her conflicted
feelings for Emmett Pratt, a decent and sensitive local mechanic now wrongfully
accused of a local murder. But as she approaches the town she left two decades
ago, she, like Emmett, realizes that she is still "sewn into its fabric," and
always will be.
This beautifully-written and deeply affecting novel reminds me of the
place-based, character-driven southern fiction of William Gay, Tom Franklin,
Daniel Woodrell, and Steve Yarbrough. Shonna Milliken Humphrey's Show Me Good
Land, for my money, is the most exciting first novel on the American literary
scene since Ann Patchett's Bel Canto. I'll return to "The County" with her as
many times as she wants to take me back there. Anyone who thinks that "the
novel," as we've known it for the past several centuries, is dead or dying
should read this fine book. I loved every page.