A comical novel relates a family’s history in the West.
When John “Dutch” Reisender returns as an adult to Inverness, Idaho, he is reminded of family stories from his past. There was a time when the Reisenders had large reunions (“in those days a family reunion was considered just about the highest form of recreation,” John explains), complete with the attendance of multiple generations, religious discussions, and doses of youthful mischief. It is in his remembrance of such occasions that John reflects on other occurrences from his youth. The resulting tales, broken up into individual chapters, range from an account of his forbearers arriving in America to a look at his own clumsy youth playing high school football and attending church-sponsored retreats. The stories are full of the offbeat characters that once populated Inverness, like the shellshocked panhandler known as Jackpot and a midget named Nick Monokov, who had a fondness for Nietzsche. Then there are the colorful chronicles of John’s family, which—the reader is told in the introduction—are “based in some degree on historical fact.” The revelations range from the influence on his family’s past of the self-proclaimed prophet the Rev. Claus Epp Jr. (who declared the second coming of Christ would occur “in the middle of Asia”) to a book handed down by John’s grandfather entitled The Complete History of the World. It is such nuanced information that helps to take Wiebe’s (Church of the Comic Spirit, 2008, etc.) work beyond imitations of Garrison Keillor–esque folksiness. Lopsided football scores and bumbling attempts to woo the opposite sex manage to elicit less interest than more mysterious material, such as what, exactly, would convince anyone to follow a man to Asia in hopes that the savior would return. Peppered with the religious sentiments prevalent in such a place and time (“The Lord and I could sure use some help handing out these tracts,” an aspiring preacher tells John and his friends), the novel presents a striking image of a small town that is both recognizable and strange, settled by immigrants who came to America for reasons that should not be forgotten.
This tale paints a clear and captivating picture of an Idaho town and the people who wound up, for various reasons, inhabiting it.