Monday, October 6, 2014


I wish I were eloquent enough to put into words why I so love Benjamin Whitmer's writing. You may think it doesn't need explanation, but he doesn't write about nice things. Nary a fluffy bunny, rainbow, or warm chocolate chip cookie will you find between his covers, unless it's bloodied up, coked to the gills, or peed on. And we all know how pee can ruin a good cookie, am I right? Yet somehow Whitmer makes you want to binge on a whole damn box of pee cookies. Like I said, not near eloquent enough. 

I was wowed by Whitmer's first book, Pike (which you should go buy forthwith), and have been anxiously awaiting more ever since. Cry Father does not disappoint. I have a profound weakness for beautiful, lean prose and there are no wasted words here. Whitmer can draw a masterpiece with only a fraction of the crayon box. With the seemingly simplest of sentences, tiniest turn of phrase, something small becomes a chest-kicker. 

For example:

The idiot in the mirror in front of Patterson looks like he might disintegrate.

Cry Father is about many types of relationships, but those of fathers and sons in particular. The sins of the fathers have painted their sons' futures. The question is whether the sons have the will or the character to overcome the building blocks of their rough upbringings and tragedies in order to be better fathers and sons in their own right.

Patterson Wells works clearing disaster areas much of the year, yet he can't seem to clean up the disaster of his life, mired as he is in the grief of losing his young son, Justin, years ago. His ex-wife has tried to bring closure to her grief, both by raising her son Gabe from a brief post-Patterson relationship, and by suing the doctor whose mistake caused Justin's death. Patterson doesn't believe in closure, can barely look at Gabe, and can't conceive of a world without his son, keeping Justin's memory alive by writing to him in a ruled notebook:

Nothing ends, ever. And nothing heals because there's nothing to heal. Losing you is my life now. There's no resolution to it. 
Patterson returns to his cabin in the San Luis Valley of Colorado during the off-season, where he's off the grid, surrounded only by the mesa and his neighbor, Henry. On this particular trip home, Henry's son Junior is hanging around. Junior has no love lost for his old man, who was a cheating, neglectful alcoholic during Junior's childhood.

Junior runs drugs for the local baddies, and knows with every run he is further from being the father he wants to be to his daughter. Feeling unfit and guilty, he wants to wreak violence on his own failure of a father. After one of Junior's visits leaves Henry beaten and bloodied, Patterson calls on Junior to warn him off further brutality towards his father.

Instead, Patterson ends up getting pulled into Junior's orbit time and again, where it seems nothing goes right or ends well. Enter stage left: murder, biting, stoning, shooting, grave-digging, drug heavies, dog-kicking, ear-ripping, and butterfly kisses. Yeah, that last one was just to make sure you were paying attention. What results is a harsh ride, beautifully told. All that remains is to see what type of sons and fathers are standing at the end.

Street Sense:  I highly recommend both Cry Father and Pike, along with whatever Benjamin Whitmer writes next.

A Favorite Passage: "Turns out there's no better medicine for heartache than surviving a murder attempt and stealing a car."

Cover Nerd Says:  Cry Father's cover art blew my socks off. I would have picked this up off a bookstore table even if I didn't know what it was about or who the author was. Is it a picture of dirt (minerals? pollutants? some drugs mixed in?) on the ground, or is it something of a dirt explosion taking place above the Colorado mesa? The cover even has a slight texture to it, perhaps an inkling of the grittiness to continue inside. The font is a beauty as well. This will definitely be in the running for one of my top covers of 2014. 


Rhonda H. said...

I can't tell you how good it is to see your blog up and running. I have seen Cry Father mentioned several times recently, but after reading your review I have moved it to the top of my list. I doubt I will make it through the day without buying both Cry Father and Pike. I trust your recommendations so much that I have read I don't know how many (A LOT) books when all you have given me was title and author. How cool will it be now that I can read your reviews along with that? I mean who wouldn't want to read about "murder, biting, stoning, shooting, grave-digging, drug heavies, dog-kicking, ear-ripping, and butterfly kisses?" :) Love the "Favorite Passage" and "Cover Nerd" sections. And pee cookies? Awesome. Can't wait for the next review.

Jen Forbus said...

I agree, Rhonda! I love the little extras at the end of MAR's review. Woo hoo! Brava, great start!

Shannon @ River City Reading said...

Great way to start! I have a copy of this that I'm hoping to get to really soon. I know it's everything I love, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

You gals are simply the best. I couldn't have done any of it without the both of youse. Thanks a million.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

I definitely think Ben's work is in your wheelhouse, Shannon. Let me know what you think when and if you get to it. Thanks for the comment, your blogging has been part of my inspiration to share more, so I appreciate that as well.

Pop Culture Nerd said...

Congrats on your grand opening!! Is there a coupon for the all-you-can-eat buffet?

This is awesome. So glad you're blogging. I love me some lean prose, too, and have been meaning to read Whitmer. I'm hesitant about the pee cookies, though. And the butterfly kisses.

Looking forward to your next review!

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

Thanks PCN. I've certainly had good role models, so any failures are mine alone. It will be an adventure for sure. Glad you stopped by!

About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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