Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fourth Of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Pete Snow is a social worker in rural Montana.  His days are spent trying to help families who have fallen on hard times, and when they can't be helped, making sure their children are cared for.  He has a huge territory and no real co-workers so he is on his own, doing what he thinks best while working in isolation.  His own family, a daughter and an ex-wife, have moved to Texas so he works even longer hours to distract himself from the hurt of not being with his daughter, Rachel.

As he goes about his work, he comes across a boy who has been living in the wild.  Benjamin Pearl camps out with his father who is a survivalist, a man who believes in conspiracies and that the government is trying to find and kill him, while the whole world is about to collapse under a fiscal disaster.  The Pearls live on what they can hunt or fish or forage, and are dirty, in poor health and trust no one.  Over months, Pete manages to get Jeremiah Snow to trust him a little and is able to take them clothes, food and medicine.  He knows there is a wife and more children but Pearl never allows Pete to meet them. 

Disaster strikes when his daughter runs away from his ex-wife.  Pete takes off and scours city after city, using his contacts as a social worker to find out where runaways in each town congregate but he can't find Rachel.  He knows only too well the dangers a teenage girl faces as a runaway and is willing to go anywhere and do anything to find her.  His inability to help his own daughter tears at him, making him doubt himself and his work.

As the months go on, Pete is torn between his search for Rachel, his desire to help the Pearls and the increasing pressure from the government to help them capture Pearl.  The government considers him to be a domestic terrorist and wants Pete to use the trust he has built up with Pearl to betray him and help them capture him.  Pete's world is fraught with disappointments, pressure and a realization that he can't fix the world.

Smith Henderson has created a world that the reader usually never encounters.  This is the world of the working poor, those who have given up and live however they can and those who have opted out of society entirely.  Pete Snow is a fascinating character, desperate to help those around him and slowly realizing that he may not be able to.  This is a debut novel and one that will make Henderson's mark in the literary world; a blazing indictment of a society that fails at providing for those less fortunate.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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