CALVES IN THE MUD ROOM by Jerome O. Brown

CALVES IN THE MUD ROOM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A brief glimpse into the life of a rural teenager.

In his debut novella, Brown introduces Wade Summers, a teenager who wants nothing more than to go to his school dance with Glory Schoonover, a beautiful, rich girl who has inexplicably asked him to be her date. Unfortunately, life gets in the way in the form of his dead grandfather’s cattle farm, his drunk and abusive stepfather, and his disengaged, alcoholic mother. Even the cows thwart him. They keep giving birth, further delaying Wade’s date. Wade greets the first newborn calf with “Yup, this is life. Welcome,” when he finds it frozen to the ground and pries it loose with a crowbar, and this brief exchange exemplifies the life Wade lives—brutal and harsh, but it contains flickers of kindness. Wade struggles with the conflicting demands from his stepfather, the girls at school, and his own dreams and desires. Brown’s deft prose is both richly descriptive and sparse, bringing to life Wade’s environment, where dead horses in the back of a pickup truck stand cheek by jowl with rare orchids and new life. There is the liberal use of texting jargon (characters often say LOL, YOLO, etc.), which highlights the distance and detachment Wade feels among his peers. While some plot points, especially toward the end of the story, passively rather than actively involve Wade, these neat turns of events work well within the world Brown has created, where his characters struggle to feel powerful against the overpowering forces of poverty, cruelty and ranch life. As a novella, it feels unfinished, and readers may regret being forced to leave Brown’s world and its hard luck protagonist so soon.

An elegant, exciting debut.

Page count: 123pp
Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
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