A woman tries to protect her family and her small Midwestern city from the dangerous impact of oil drilling in this drama.
When the Doornaert Oil and Gas Company proposes to drill for oil in Noredge, Ohio, many of the city’s inhabitants are thrilled at the prospect of the economic benefits. Mary Jenkins, however, worries that its method—hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”—will despoil the city’s ecosystem, endangering residents’ lives. To further complicate matters, her longtime boyfriend, Joe Bertolo, works for Doornaert, driving a truck that hauls “dirty water,” a toxic brew of salty liquid and various chemicals. Joe earns a good paycheck and is reluctant to stand up against his employer, but Mary notices a steep decline in his health, likely due to exposure to dangerous gases. Soon, Noredge undergoes the kind of transformation Mary was anxious about; her street turns into a messy swarm of dust and fumes while the downtown area becomes overcrowded with bustling activity, including crime. Then, Joe is badly hurt in an accident while driving his truck, causing a troublesome spill of dirty water in a nearby town, inviting a slew of negative media attention to the company. Mike Doyle—the new regional manager and Joe’s boss since Doornaert was bought by a larger company—deceitfully lays the blame for the crash on Joe’s faulty driving. Meanwhile, Noredge residents notice a terrible smell emanating from their water; fearing that their health is threatened, they begin to protest. Mary assumes a leadership role that propels her into the thick of the city’s politics. Smolders (Alone in Boca Raton, 2014, etc.) is deeply knowledgeable about the environmental dangers attached to fracking as well as its economic and political allure. (Early on, a Doornaert lawyer tells a group of Noredge citizens: “That shale, the ‘source rock,’ sits a few thousand feet under your city. Its oil and gas have been waiting there for us for more than four hundred million years. Haven’t we tested their patience long enough?”) In addition, the author sensitively dramatizes the issues without any heavy-handed ideological posturing. The writing is lucid, if lacking in literary style, but the story becomes overly congested with competing subplots, including some unnecessary romantic complications. Overall, though, Smolders keeps the plot marching at a brisk pace, and Mary emerges as a memorable heroine.
An intelligent novelization of a hot environmental issue.