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They All Had Secrets at Bow Farm

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Wood also introduces the peripheral character of Melody’s divorce-prone brother. His third wedding, and Melody’s reunion with her estranged parents with Wrecker in tow, is just one more by-passed event in what ends up being a list of them: Wrecker’s high school dance, not to mention his daily high school life, Willow’s multiple prison visits to Lisa Fay. Much of the action occurs away from Bow Farm and we don’t see enough of it.

Also, though I don’t know what the foster system was like in the ‘60s, I’m sure it carried more potential for dramatic conflict (or is this comic relief?) than a scene like this:

“Miss Hanson,” he repeated for the eleventh time. “I’m holding for Miss Hanson.”
“Please deposit forty cents for the next three minutes,” the operator whined. Len searched his pockets. He had thirty-five cents. He dropped it into the coin slots.
“Please deposit—“
“This is Miss Hanson.”
“—five cents more for the next three minutes.”
“Miss Hanson!” But Len had no more change, and the operator terminated his call.
“I’m sorry,” the receptionist said when Len finally reached her again. “Miss Hanson has left for lunch.”

Wood is certainly not a bad writer, just maybe too often a soft one, with some uninspired structures or rhythms. In one paragraph she describes, “Slight, sophisticated, Willow leaned against a porch post…”, then a few sentences later in the same paragraph describes another character, “Hearty, helpful, the woman resembled a country monk…” Or this passage of psychology-lite: “Len’s brow furrowed. Why? This was a kid, a child with no other relatives to look after him. Wouldn’t Meg have said yes? You couldn’t leave a child alone in the world. But now Len was saying no. Was this right? How could this be? He looked aside, morose. Accused, somehow. And plainly guilt.”

Wood does have a fine descriptive sense, however. The liveliest and most interesting chapter, for me, is also the most environmentally destructive: Len, a logger, fells an old tree, and finally it feels like something is happening. This chapter contains some of Wood’s finest writing:

“It was a giant tree, the trunk misshapen by fire and encrusted with lichens, and it dominated the slope with its girth and the broad circle of shade cast by its canopy […] Noises flattened beneath it.”

Once Wood has the task of describing a utilitarian function, the prose comes alive:

“Len eased its whirring blade into the thick bark of the tree. The motor pitch dipped and a stream of pale dust spewed from the cut. He lifted the blade back out, repositioned it over the first cut, and angled down until the two kerfs met. Then he removed the blade and stilled the saw.”

But even here, I feel Wood by-passes possibly transcendent material. Wrecker has a vocational epiphany watching the tree come down the mountain, and Wood handles his sense of awe nicely:

“Wrecker stumbled back when the tree began to fall. He planted his feet to steady himself and after some gaping seconds the shock waves galloped across the ground to climb his legs and rearrange his chest. He absorbed the blow into every cell of his body, felt it change the chemistry of his brain, shake into shape some amorphous category of soul. And after the noise abated still he stood and let the slow seep of warmth—the afterglow of destruction—feed his muscles and flush his face.”

I wanted more of this throughout the novel, this elevated sense of emotion and deeper insight into a character, especially Wrecker. And that, finally, is the novel’s biggest fault: it strays too far from its title character. Some of Wood’s strongest writing is about Wrecker, with some deceptively simple sentences that say a lot:

“The kid came with a trash bag half full of who knows what.”

“He seemed to need to feel his body collide with the physical world to know he existed.”

I wanted more of Wrecker, especially the older he gets. I understand that the wreckage he causes is to the preconceptions of this half-settled group, but I wanted him to be more destructive, to truly wreck things. Too often he seems the least-drawn of the characters, a slightly confused sandy-haired kid who likes motorbikes and is not so much a wrecker as simply reckless, and even that in a pretty typical way. 

The press release states how the author wished to imagine a safe place for abandoned children. Unfortunately this novel is a little too safe.

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