BY WAY OF WATER by Charlotte Gullick


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An impoverished family tries to scrape by during hard times in the backwoods of northern California.

In 1977, the hinterlands of the West Coast are inhabited largely by the very poor and the very weird, and the Colby family fits both categories. Jake, an unemployed logger, is part-Indian, likes the occasional drink, plays the fiddle, and has a nasty temper that he keeps under control most of the time. His wife Dale is a devout Jehovah’s Witness and has raised their children (Lacee, Micah, and Justy) in the faith despite Jake’s agnosticism. The decline of logging in the Eel River woodlands—brought on in part because the mountain the Colbys live on has been bought by a mining company—has made it difficult for Jake to support his family. He takes odd jobs where he can, digging graves and so forth, and once in a while he will hunt deer for food. This causes problems, however, as the mining company has threatened to evict tenants caught poaching on their land. So Dale makes Jake vow never to hunt again. She has taken a vow herself, promising never to sing (she has a beautiful voice) except in her Kingdom Hall during meetings. And seven-year-old Justine has vowed never to speak again until her father finds work. Although the Colbys are pretty traditional by 1977 standards, there are also a good number of hippies in the area, mostly from Berkeley or the East. They circulate a petition against the mining company’s plans for development, fearing that they will pollute and ruin the local ecology. The Colbys don’t sign (Dale doesn’t believe in voting), but they become friends with Ochre, the son of one of the hippies. When Jake’s father Kyle comes for a visit, the two men find a long burden of tension between them.

Rambling and unfocused: a nicely written debut tale that meanders slowly in no particular direction.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 2002
ISBN: 0-399-14898-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: BlueHen/Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2002