FARAWAY PLACES by Tom Spanbauer


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Short first novel about a farmboy in Idaho who becomes aware of injustice and bigotry; fine setting, but often heavy-handed in its psychology and symbol. Jacob Joseph Weber lives with his parents on a farm near the Portneuf River, where the land is ""as flat as a cookie sheet with a ripple in it."" Trouble starts with ""that year of the chinook,"" when the unusual warm spring wind heralds a drought that makes for a poor harvest; Jacob's parents are unable to make a full mortgage payment, and in the blink of an eye the evil and sexually decadent banker Harold P. Endicott forecloses on the farm. After a couple of days of hard drinking, Jacob's father slugs wife and son, then sets out to fight the oppressor Endicott, owner of five fierce dogs that have already chewed Endicott's mistress (a full-blooded Indian named Sugar Babe) to death, a murder that's been pinned on another Indian whom the locals mistrust and believe to be a ""nigger."" Young Jacob follows his father to the scene of his showdown with Endicott, where, at the last minute, father (who has been knocked out cold) and son are saved by the ""nigger"" (actually Sugar Babe's son), who, dressed in a breech clout and war paint (he calls himself Geronimo), kills Endicott with an arrow in the eye. Endicott is left (naked and scalped) to be devoured by the same dogs that in a minute more would have devoured Jacob and his unconscious father; Jacob later tells his father the truth about Geronimo's having saved their lives--but not soon enough to save Geronimo from a lynching. Grim adventure here turns on the ready availability of simple types--the all-evil banker, bigoted townsfolk, bull-headed father, good Indian--and, although young Jacob's first-person voice strives to create an atmosphere of credible foreboding and uneasiness (and sometimes succeeds), it is often falsely naive (""watching him like that, watching him like he was, I decided he was just. . .a person, like me. He was Geronimo, being himself in our free country""). Coming-of-age rural drama burdened by message.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1988
ISBN: 0976631180
Publisher: Putnam