Cry Father, by Benjamin Whitmer … his debut novel, Pike, was nominated in 2013 for Grand Prix de Littératurè Best Novel: New Voice … he’s also had a bestselling non-fiction book, Satan is Real, The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers. I thought Pike was the best book of the year back in 2010. Today I’m thinking Ben Whitmer has hit an exacta, as Cry Father has been the best book I’ve read thus far this year (and that includes Richard Bausch’s, Before, During, After).
For this reader, amici, that’s very, very, very high praise.
Then again, Cry Father is the best book I’ve read in a very, very, very, long time.
Names like Larry Brown, Daniel Woodrell and Cormac McCarthy immediately come to mind, yet Whitmer’s voice is distinctive. The dialogue his characters speak is at times ferocious and at times outright hilarious. It is never pretentious. Profundity comes in all forms and from all directions. No matter the men in this novel are off the grid or drug addled or alcoholic, they speak from their core and without window dressing. Think Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men) … maybe a few of him.
Some of the lines quoted from Cry Father in this review have justifiably been quoted in other reviews. Frankly, there’s no discounting their power.
Cry Father begins with Patterson Wells stopping at a former co-workers house on his way to go fishing. What he finds is his friend (Chase) has become a meth dealer. Worse, Chase has become his own best customer—a certifiable tweaker. When Patterson goes to use the bathroom, he finds Chase’s woman tied and gagged and naked in the tub. It’s the introductory chapter to a world of chaos encased with drugs and booze and violence; people living as close to an anarchic state of nature as it gets.
Patterson works disasters, cleaning up debris and bodies (i.e., Katrina, etc.). He’s also trimmed trees and worked alongside other hard men self-condemned to a hard life. Drinking and fighting is their common denominator. As Patterson explains in a letter to his dead son why it is he doesn’t write while he’s on a job: “The men I work with, they don’t grieve. They drink, then they erupt.”
The letters are an exercise in futility Patterson can’t live without; the only way to keep his son alive. The boy was lost to a bad call by a doctor Patterson struggles against killing. The boy’s mother, Laney, also feels the loss, but not to the same degree as Patterson. Laney can’t because there’s another son she has to love. She’s suing the doctor and wants Patterson to be a part of her effort. Patterson wants nothing to do with it. He’s fighting too many of his own demons, fueling the internal brawl mostly with booze, and sometimes drugs and/or violence. His father was one such demon. Together his parents were “a pair of drunks” … but it was his father’s suicide that scarred him. We learn about the suicide in another of Patterson’s letters to his dead son.
I tried to ask her about it. What there was that I didn’t know that would make him unhappy enough to do that … You don’t have to be particularly unhappy to shoot yourself, was what she said. Your average life will do it.
Cry Father revolves around the relationships between fathers and sons (parents in general), and although the male characters in the book have a self-inflicted train wreck of a future awaiting them, their personas are often stripped bare in moments of revealing introspection and dialogue. In another letter to his son, Patterson writes: They put people in prison for taking drugs. They lock kids away for stealing money from gas stations, for joyriding in cars. But men who abandon their children, they float through life, as light as air.
Patterson has a decent moral compass. He knows right from wrong, but like many of us, he too often gets in his own way. Also like many of us, he can let the past haunt him forever.
Another father-son team, Henry and Junior, have their tragic issues as well. Junior is an off the charts wreck of a man hell bent on leaving mayhem in his wake, especially when it concerns his father (Henry). He delivers drugs for a pair of dealers with connections south of the border. He also does drugs … and drinks … and brawls. Brought up in a foster home after his mother passed and Henry dove into the bottle full time, Junior has a particular soft spot for his daughter, Casey (and another lost child he finds and protects along the way).
Reflecting about his mother … Junior’s mother was a good mother. Broken and sad from having married a piece of shit, but a good mother. It was that goodness that made Junior feel guilty most of the time. He knew what Henry was, and even from a young age, he knew that he and Henry were partners in it, in making his mother cry. He knew because he could do it just as easy as Henry could. And did so, without even trying.
Whitmer’s writing is superb; that of a master craftsman. I marked passages throughout as I read and reread, far too many to quote here, but all worth rereads, several more, I’m sure.
In dialogue after Patterson implies a defense of the WACO Branch Davidians murdered by the FBI and ATF, Junior states: “My people, shit. I don’t even know what a Branch Davidian is. They’re about just as much my people as the people in the World Trade Center. You know how many Manhattan bankers I’ve met in my life? … None … not fucking one. I got more in common with an Afghan goatherder than I have with a Manhattan banker …”
There’s no American dream in Patterson’s world. Any chance of one died with his son. Cry Father alerts us that the nihilist movement is alive and well on the Mesa. Rejecting the grid isn’t a divide between fathers and sons; the pairs of fathers and sons in Cry Father are proponents of life off the grid, and are more than anxious to reject government or any other type of authority. Patterson understands that there’s pain and then there’s more pain, and that it doesn’t have to end.
Unlike the shifting social and political tides in Turgenev’s classic novel about Fathers and Sons, Whitmer’s Cry Father speaks to the misconceptions of guilt and blame; that we can wrap ourselves in one and live for the other.
I’ve never (ever) believed in awards of any kind, especially in the arts, but here’s a book that should shoot to the top of most Best OF lists (and already has). If there’s an award I’d point to for Cry Father, it would be one of the big ones: National Book Award, Pulitzer, etc., take your pick. The author well deserves at least one of those for this incredible novel of love and loss and the only way some men can deal with them.
Cry Father comes with the ultimate TK recommendation. As stated above: Cry Father is a book you will read and read again. It is the best book I’ve read in a very, very, very, long time.
I’ve haven’t read Satan is Real yet, but I will. How could I not now?
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley … wow, it had to have been a long time ago when I read the original Frankenstein (a.k.a., The Modern Prometheus) … and I was probably turned off by having seen the Boris Karloff movies … I know I couldn’t have understood the politics of the story or any of the other social themes as a kid … so, it was well worth the re-read (although I should consider it an original read since I barely recognized the bulk of the novel). Bottom line: I was with the Monster all the way until he killed Elizabeth (that was some cruel shit). On the other hand, I was NEVER with Viktor and if there was something I didn’t enjoy in the original (and I didn’t enjoy this part at all), it was the never ending whining of Dr. Frankenstein.
Dude, I kept thinking, “Grow a pair already!”
Rereading this one was the result of reading Kate Horsley’s The Monster’s Wife last week, a novel I enjoyed a bit more, although the original certainly was a good read. The cruelty of man, especially when he’s afraid of something, was a lesson some patriotic Americans would do well to digest, although I am curious as to what conservatives might think about the Monster, et al.
Patti Abbott … has a new book out next year, Concrete Angel. Patti has written a ton of short stories in a ton of anthologies and next year her novel will be published by Polis books. Visit her author’s page at amazon here:
This Week(’s Disaster(s)) in the NFL … what can anyone say? The NFL (the owners and/or their flunky, Roger Goodell) didn’t learn what Richard Nixon tried to teach them … beware the lie!
Or, in the case of the NFL, the lies.
Is that why Roger Goodell’s eyes are closed up above?
There’s been a lot of back peddling over the last two weeks, ultimately resulting in a few good choices (as far as anyone can tell). The headliners (Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy) are all out for now, but let’s face it, amici, no pictures, no problems, and that is something the NFL can never take back. Even with the first Rice video of him dragging his unconscious wife out of the elevator (showing zero remorse or concern for her), the NFL was moved to suspend the running back for a grand total of 2 games. Once the public saw the knockout, Roger was back on his bike. The problem for him, of course, was doing his disappearing act a few weeks too late. He made the mistake of talking with friendly Norah O’Donnell at CBS. Even with zero follow up to direct question, he lied through his teeth when he stated what Ray Rice told him about what happened in the elevator was ambiguous.
What ultimately happens is anyone’s guess, but even the power of the purse in a capitalist society proves itself vulnerable to the lie (except none of the owners are facing any recriminations outside of having to fork over a few dollars, pennies compared to their profits, for players watching their teams on television.
The roots of the NFL’s problems … congratulations, NCAA … especially schools like Miami and Florida State … where else could a punk like Jamieson Winston thrive when he should’ve been sitting out a season instead of half a game (this weekend). Read about it here:
Actually, since the explosion of ESPN highlights, which goes back a ways now, the celebrations and chest beating antics of NFL players infected the Pee-Wee leagues more than a few years ago. I’ve watched one high school game since I stopped playing football some 38 years ago, and the kids in that game seemed perfectly content with beating their chests. It’s now part of our football culture and it doesn’t appear to be getting any better. Where athletes used to score a touchdown and toss the ball to the ref, they now have their own dance steps to prove it was them who scored (Victor Cruz—although you’ll never see dance when he drops balls) … you have a Moonachie Green Dog Killer Jet Defensive tackle, Mo Wilkerson, getting tossed from a close game (his team ultimately lost) and denying his fellow teammates his pass rushing ability … not only that, he smiled while leaving the field and egged the Packer fans on. I'm his boss, he's traded and/or fired, end of story.
The point being, one really DOESN’T need to perform a dance, or beat his chest, or spike a football, etc., after scoring. It’s a choice … and one that’s been accepted by fans and promoted by ESPN. It may’ve gained fans for the extra entertainment value (how most seem to regard the “look at me” antics), but it lost me forever. I haven’t attended an NFL football game since I almost got into a fight at a Jets-Bills game in Moonachie. I had my 11 year old son (at the time) with me and he jumped up in excitement after Thurman Thomas scored a TD … it annoyed the 3 drunks I was sitting alongside. That was almost 20 years ago. Fuck the NFL, their owners, and the douchebags who feel it’s a requirement (or right) to attend a game drunk. I’ll watch it on TV on Sunday, but as soon as I’m pissed off enough, I’ll switch over to Netflix and watch a movie and/or start my editing process a day early.
Frankly, as much as I love my Buffalo Bills, I can live just fine without the NFL (why I dropped the NFL ticket last year and switched to NHL Center Ice as soon as the Rangers traded my guy, Ryan Callahan (who we're going to see play for Tampa Bay early next month, so there, NFL).
Below is Muhammed Wilkerson laughing it up after he’s just been tossed from a game against the Bears. Word is he apologized to his teammates after the game. Wow, why not give him a Nobel Peace Prize? I would’ve given him a compass and a flashlight and a reflective vest to wear while he parked cars for next game.
So it goes …
Tom Waits … Heartattack and Vine …