Three brothers share one bed…all their lives.
Clinch’s second novel spans 60 years but begins at the end, in 1990. Vernon, Audie and Creed Proctor are dairy farmers in upstate New York. Old man Audie, mentally challenged, wakes to find Vernon dead but the bed dry (Vernon was a bedwetter). Creed reports the death, which is deemed suspicious. The urine-soaked mattress is impounded. Might Creed have smothered his brother? The police force a dubious confession from the barely literate Creed. Clinch has incorporated some elements of the 1990 Delbert Ward case, just as E.L. Doctorow used the Collyer brothers, the Proctors’ urban counterparts, for his 2009 novel Homer and Langley. Real life supplied a legal resolution in the Ward case. Not so here. Clinch shuffles time periods as he did in his debut Finn (2007), which featured the monstrous Pap. Lester Proctor, the boys’ father, is almost as evil. A mean drunk, he takes the boys on a fishing expedition and almost drowns Vernon through his negligence. Another time he has Vernon cut off his damaged finger. He regrets he hasn’t killed Audie, the “idiot child.” Facing such brutality, it’s no wonder the boys huddle together protectively. Lester dies young in a mule-and-wagon accident; their beloved mother dies of cancer; little sister Donna gets out fast. The brothers keep the farm going, quaint figures from an earlier time. But don’t get misty-eyed; they’re caked in dung and smell terrible. Clinch uses various voices and viewpoints for his group portrait. The brothers are seen as ants, Okies or cavemen (but never kings). Walking a fine line, not wanting us to dismiss them as freaks, Clinch uses their neighbor Preston to anchor the novel. A kindly soul, Preston respects their willingness to endure. A secondary story line, involving their nephew Tom, a marijuana grower and dealer, is a mistake, distracting us from the sad riddle of the Proctor boys.
A journey into the dark that’s more titillating then illuminating.