A Brontë-esque debut novel about wretched families, childhood grief, love and betrayal, by poet and memoirist Barnes (Hungry for the World, 2000, etc.).
Narrator Buddy Hope is seven years younger than his brother Lee, whom he idolizes, though in many ways Buddy is the sharper of the pair. Born and raised on a ramshackle Oklahoma farm, the Hope boys grew up in a home poisoned by their father’s alcoholism and failure—and their mother’s passive despair. The inadequacy of the Hope parents actually brought Buddy and Lee closer together, and when their parents died in a car accident in 1958, the boys were given what amounted to a new lease on life. Having heard that work was plentiful in the logging camps of backwoods Idaho, the boys hit the road and headed north. Lee had already made a small reputation for himself as a bluegrass singer in Oklahoma, and in Idaho he began to perform with a local band at a roadhouse called the Stables. One of the regulars is Irene Sullivan, a beautiful and mysterious woman who arrives and leaves alone. Although Lee makes a pass at her, it’s the 17-year-old Buddy who becomes Irene’s lover—secretly at first, for fear of his brother’s wrath. Enigmatic and silent, fond of imported wine and Italian opera, Irene cuts an odd figure in Snake Junction, and it’s a long time before Buddy learns some of the secrets of her past. He might never have learned them but for a tragedy: Lee’s bass player Laurette is found murdered, and the police arrest a local Indian, Leopold Wolfchild, who was once Irene’s lover. And in the course of the investigation certain details emerge about Irene and Leopold that Buddy wasn’t prepared for.
A standard coming-of-ager, told in a polished if somewhat precious voice (“I abide in the whisper of wind through an old mare’s bones”) that sounds more evocative of Greenwich Village than Idaho.