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FOURTH OF JULY CREEK by Smith Henderson


by Smith Henderson

Pub Date: June 3rd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-06-228644-4
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Of wide open spaces and lives narrowly, desperately lived at the bitter ends of dirt and gravel roads.

The spur of the Rockies at the northwestern corner of Montana is as hard and remote a stretch of country as any in the Lower 48, good reason why a person might want to disappear into it. Social worker Pete Snow, delivered to us in medias res, is well-used to what happens to people with too little money and too much booze or meth in tow. But he’s not quite prepared for how years of being used to such things can wear a person down—and what will touch him off to the point that he’s willing to smack a client. Says Pete to his target, trying to explain the rightness of his act, “[t]hose punches sure as shit come through me but they were not mine. As meant for you as they were, they were not mine.” He’s willing to cop to most responsibilities, but that doesn’t stop his own life from dissolving. Meanwhile, he’s caught up in a curious knot: In a land of snarling dogs and WIC checks, he has to sort out the life of a very nearly feral child, bound up in the even more complex life of a survivalist, paranoid and anti-statist, who may or may not be a Unabomber in the making. That brings the feds into the picture, and if Pete resorts to fisticuffs reluctantly, the FBI thinks nothing of beating their way around a countryside that looks ever more apocalyptic with each passing page. Henderson, a native Montanan, finds ample room for deep-turning plot twists in the superficially simple matter of a man looking for meaning in his own life while trying to help others too proud and mistrustful to receive that assistance. The story goes on a bit long, but the details are just right: It’s expertly written and without a false note, if often quite bleak.

Of a piece with Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in imagining a rural West that’s seen better days—and perhaps better people, too.