First-novelist Siporin, a former NPR reporter covering Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, offers an excruciatingly taut and horrific tale of hate-crimes against blacks, Jews, and lesbians by vicious young racists with guns, baseball bats, steel-tipped boots, and a wardrobe of ill-fitting Nazi uniforms. Despondent Portland teacher Hannah Turnfeld, in the courthouse awaiting the trial of Aryan supremacist Robert Hanson for instigating the murder of one of her students, meets Fil, a dreadlocked young man on hand to document the relationship between Hanson's group and the skinheads, and the two intercede when a trio of swastika-waving punks act up. Inexorably, they all meet again up in rural Elk Hill, where Hannah is propping up her brother's family after his wife's rape, Fil is interviewing a group of lesbians whose house has been shot up by hate-mongers, and the neo-Nazis are seeking new converts with headline-grabbing violence. More tragedy looms, including a hanging and a firebombing, before a forest fire threatens to consume Hannah, together with an unrepentant skinhead. Neither the land nor the people living on this tiny corner of it will ever be the same again.
Gruesome and powerful, with a shudder on almost every page: With awesome skill, Siporin can switch from detailing the ugly genesis and aftermath of racism to evoking the physical and emotional exhaustion of firefighters to setting a tender scene for a child's favorite bedtime story.