A young boy’s discovery of bones on his family’s Oklahoma farm throws his life into a tailspin in Fuller’s (Decency, 2012) post–World War II novel.
In 1946, 7-year-old Joe works hard on a farm with no electricity. Power companies are looking for land, and Joe’s grandfather hears that organized crime is trying to muscle its way into the electricity business. After Joe discovers what appear to be human remains, James, a man helping at the farm, is arrested for murder. Billy Joe Parmalee, a young attorney, asks Joe if he will help him prove that James is innocent. As the story progresses, the child learns that not everyone is trustworthy. Fuller delivers a novel that’s fully engaged with its time period: Joe is in awe over such things as cameras and telephones and is impressed by a house that has not one, but two toilets conveniently located inside. The author provides the boy with a rich history—his father died during the war, and his mother, during the course of the narrative, moves to Kansas City to make a better life for herself and her son. Joe’s interactions with his family, particularly his grandpa, make for sweet moments, but the standout scenes are those with Joe and the lawyer, as the two work on James’ case. Fuller appropriately and endearingly highlights the farm’s chores; milking the cows is done so often that people use them to measure the time of day, and laundry is an all-day event. Joe comes across as a naïve, believable 7-year-old, but he also displays shrewdness and levelheadedness. He has cravings for cream sodas but also describes his anger as “sour acid rivers” that have “raged in [his] veins.” The story is written in Joe’s dialect—the phrase “might could” appears often. But the author’s stylistic bravura really drives the novel home, as he effectively uses fragmented sentences in the more intense scenes, such as Joe’s nightmare that opens the story.
An engaging novel, which successfully merges a drama and a thriller into a period piece.