A small-town family, torn apart by tragedy, must find a way to overcome their grievances when they face a common threat in Brandes’ debut novel.
Long before fracking ever came to Minden, Pennsylvania, the fissures in the Pierson family were developing into major fault lines. Brothers Jack and Wade were very young when their mother, Stella, abandoned them and never returned. Their stern father, Steve, is all they have—until Wade shoots him in a freak accident. After a frantic effort to reach out to his mother proves fruitless, Wade leaves town, carrying an understandably heavy burden of remorse. Twenty years on, Jack, who recently separated from his wife, LeeAnn, is an orchardist tending to acres of apple trees and making do in his economically depressed hometown. What the townspeople don’t know is that they could be sitting on vast reserves of Marcellus shale, an abundant source of natural gas. Before long, Green Energy, a fracking company, comes calling and sends in a star salesman with a few local connections: Wade. In response, Jack reaches out to their mom, now called Stella Brantley, who’s an established environmental lawyer, and convinces her that Minden should be the next battleground for pro bono activist work. The scene is set for confrontation: between the two siblings, between them and their mother, and between the small town and a large corporation. Brandes checks off all the boxes for quality fiction: the characters are well-rounded, the settings, such as the apple orchards, the crisp Silver Creek, and the rocky outcrops, are vividly described, and the plot is well-organized and crisply paced. The tension between the characters satisfyingly rises to a crescendo that’s in sync with the larger environmental crisis that threatens the town, although some of the drama feels contrived at times. Readers will hear echoes of author Richard Russo’s small-town stories here, although Brandes works on a smaller, less complex canvas.
An expertly paced, moving exploration of grief and responsibility and an eloquent portrait of a small town struggling with compromise.