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Fourth of July Creek: A Novel Hardcover – May 27, 2014
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*Starred Review* Dedicated social worker Pete Snow lives in remote, impoverished Tenmile, Montana, in part because he’s hiding out from the fallout of his own fractious divorce and in part because he knows that poverty breeds dysfunctional families, and there are plenty of kids who need his care. When he is summoned to open a file on Benjamin Pearl, a nearly feral 11-year-old boy who is suffering from malnutrition, he comes into contact with the boy’s father, Jeremiah, a paranoid survivalist who mints his own money and is convinced that the end-time is near. Pete soon learns that the FBI is also interested in Jeremiah, targeting him as a homegrown terrorist. Meanwhile, Pete’s own family is in crisis; his teenage daughter has vanished, and his ex-wife can’t do much more than drink and pray. First-novelist Henderson not only displays an uncanny sense of place—he clearly knows rural Montana and its impassable roads, its dank bars, its speed freaks and gas huffers—he also creates an incredibly rich cast of characters, from Pete’s drunken, knuckleheaded friends to the hard-luck waitress who serves him coffee to the disturbed, love-sick survivalist. Dark, gritty, and oh so good. --Joanne Wilkinson
“First novels don’t come much more confidently written or fully imagined than this.” (New York Times)
“This is a hell of a great book.”- (Esquire)
“Breathtaking...heartbreaking…Henderson’s immersive, colorful style makes this scenic journey worthwhile. He’s a curious kind of hard-boiled poet - part Raymond Chandler, part Denis Johnson.” (Entertainment Weekly (Grade A))
“The best book I’ve read so far this year...Henderson choreographs these parts so masterfully that the novel is never less than wholly engaging… All week I was looking for opportunities to slip back into these pages and follow the trials of this rural social worker.” (Washington Post)
“...a masterful debut...we find ourselves rooting for these deeply human characters in the end.” (The Oregonian (Portland))
“Fourth of July Creek is an extremely dark book, but Henderson’s lyrical sentences lend an elegance-an importance-to the lives of his fictional children. By tenderly portraying horrible family secrets, Henderson is able to illuminate the richness and possibility in even the most painful lives.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“On a political level, Henderson skillfully presages the contemporary political environment in his portrayal of the America of three decades ago. On a deeper level, this dark, compassionate novel finds in Jeremiah’s-and Pete’s-pain a mirror of everyone’s. This is a significant debut.” (Library Journal)
“Born and raised in Montana, author Smith Henderson knows the terrain and its people, crafting a profoundly American tale that explores our love for freedom, our individualism and the price people sometimes pay.” (AARP)
“[A] remarkable first novel...” (Shelf Awareness)
“This book left me awestruck; a stunning debut which reads like the work of a writer at the height of his power…Fourth of July Creek is a masterful achievement and Smith Henderson is certain to end up a household name.” (Philipp Meyer, New York Times bestselling author of The Son)
“Fourth of July Creek knocked me flat. This gorgeous, full-bodied novel seems to contain all of America at what was, in retrospect, a pivotal moment in its history...Smith Henderson has delivered nothing less than a masterpiece of a novel.” (Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk)
“Fourth of July Creek cannot possibly be Smith Henderson’s first book. Its scope is audacious, its range virtuosic, its gaze steady and true. A riveting story written in a seductive and relentlessly authentic rural American vernacular, this is the kind of novel I wish I’d written.” (Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Battleborn)
“Fourth of July Creek is an astonishing read. The writing is energetic and precise. Henderson has a mastery of scale that allows this particular place and these particular people to illuminate who we are as Americans...I could not recommend this book more highly.” (Kevin Powers, bestselling author of The Yellow Birds)
“Tremendously satisfying—think Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone...or Jimmy McNulty...set...in...another kind of violent American wilderness...[a] mesmerizing accomplishment. I cannot think of a finer first novel; it’s hard, in fact, to think of a finer second, third, or fourth one, either.” (Antonya Nelson)
“A soul-wrenching debut novel... Henderson’s talents lie in the tenderness and empathy he extends to (almost) every character in the book, no matter how damaged.” (O, the Oprah Magazine)
“Henderson, a Montana native, is a nimble wordsmith… His debut novel gives us flawed people, a bleak setting, and a story that’s impossible to forget.” (Parnassus Books / Musing)
“This is an impressive, bold, ambitious book, an unforgettable epic that confidently navigates big themes and breaks your heart with small tragedies.” (Miami Herald)
“I was blown away by Smith Henderson’s debut novel, Fourth of July Creek....” (Dallas Morning News)
“In Henderson’s impressive novel, an overburdened social worker becomes involved with a near-feral boy and his survivalist father in 1980 Montana.” (New York Times Book Review, Notable Book)
“[A] stunningly accomplished debut novel … Henderson’s narrative enthralls, his dialogue crackles, and on the considerable strength of this, a promising literary career beckons.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“The myth of rugged individualism crumbles…at the side of the body of water that gives Henderson’s debut novel, Fourth of July Creek, its name…Henderson’s saga of looking for salvation by way of saving others is lyrical, suspenseful, and heartbreaking. Not all can be rescued, but we can all be redeemed.” (Entertainment Weekly, #3, Year's Best Fiction)
“Another big, gripping novel and fine feat of naturalistic storytelling.” (Janet Maslin, NYT, Top Ten Books of 2014)
“My favorite book of 2014, Smith Henderson’s Fourth of July Creek, is out in paperback... which gives me another chance to recommend it. This exciting, beautifully written debut novel describes the travails of Pete Snow, a social worker in Montana struggling to save damaged families - including his own.” (Washington Post, Ron Charles)
“Fourth of July Creek is the beautifully written story of a flawed man trying to save children from bad people like himself… a richly satisfying novel and well worth its reader’s time.” (Tullahoma News)
“Probably the most significant book to come from a Portland writer in the past year is Smith Henderson’s Fourth of July Creek… one of the most assured and accomplished debut novels in recent memory, right up there with Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. The book… is both savage and beautiful.” (Willamette Week (Portland))
“Henderson’s firm understanding of rural Montana and its residents reminds one of Kent Haruf’s novels set in Colorado, but, as if Cormac McCarthy has come to town, there’s an undercurrent of violence and vice throbbing throughout the story. Henderson understands the explosive possibilities of having those tensions surface.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Top customer reviews
Fourth of July Creek delivers three loosely connected storylines each centered around Pete Snow, a dedicated but troubled social worker in rural Montana in the 1980s. There's Cecil, the teenage boy who Pete tries to rescue from his abusive Mother. Then there's Pete's own personal struggles: his destructive lifestyle, his estranged wife and his runaway teen daughter.
And finally, the most fascinating storyline of all: 11-year-old Benjamin Pearl and his father Jeremiah, separatists living off the grid in the Montana wilderness. Jeremiah is fueled by evangelical conspiracy theories, convinced that the end is near. When Pete encounters the two of them, he becomes obsessed with helping them—particularly young Benjamin. Though worlds apart, Pete sees something familiar in Jeremiah: he's a father who wants what's best for his child, despite how misguided his efforts may be.
But as Pete gets more and more attached to the Pearls, suddenly he's in too deep, indirectly involved in something more dangerous than he could have imagined. At times I was reminded of the sinisterness and grittiness of True Detective.
What makes Fourth of July Creek so successful is the profound empathy Henderson has for his characters. We don't just see Cecil acting out, we learn how he became this way. We know Jeremiah is delusional, and by the end, we understand why. All of this empathy without an ounce of sentimentality is an impressive feat.
Where it falters a bit is in its scope. The three storyline work together, for the most part, but the Pearls' storyline is so fascinating that it's almost a bummer to set it aside at times.
But ultimately, Henderson's ambition pays off, allowing him to explore the complexities of poverty, fear, ignorance, freedom, love and hope in a deeply moving and meaningful way.
It will suffice for me to say that I agree with all of the glowing comments that have been written about the novel based on the characteristics listed above. In addition, however, I have not seen mention of his fantastic use of words and their effects beyond their descriptive use. His words not only describe; they more set a tone. For example, he doesn't state that someone is drunk, rather he is "deep in his cups". A person doesn't smell bad; he has a "foul fettle". Pearl is a "kankagelist". A woman is described quickly as "an old slattern ...tugging on a pair of thin cocks attached to two men as pink and shiny as basted hams" and immediately we get a sense of the sense the old, unkempt woman involved. Conversation is described as "badinage". And on and on.
This is only a small part of what makes this book such a tour de force. And the whole is much more than the sum of its parts here. But others have commented on other aspects that make this book a work of art; this use of words to create a tone is just another part, one that should not be ignored.
My reason for not giving it a "5" is that it is so brutal that many readers have not been able to get though that brutality to see the virtues of the novel. And the very style that that I feel raises this book is apparently a style that makes it inaccessible to many readers.
I know this sounds like I might not have enjoyed the book -- but that's not true. Once I got into it, it was hard to put down, and it certainly makes one consider his or her interactions with the various sorts of people we come across every day (whether we know what's going on with them or not).
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Tho kindle has won me over paper
Nice to have been in similar area 40 yrs. Ago