Youngsters sometimes confront this hard world too soon, coming away scarred or stronger. In Wright’s debut literary fiction, teenage James Bonham meets evil one summer.
In an era when The Doors are on the radio and fans believe Elvis has grown too fat, James discovers his cousin, Lee Ann, on his grandmother’s doorstep, nearly frozen and shocked into muteness. James, his father dead, lives with Gram. His mother, Leah, had moved them from Jacksboro, Texas, to Dallas, only to take up with a boyfriend, Jack, who fancied himself a boxer and used James as a practice punching bag. James and Lee Ann (daughter of Leah’s sister, Rachel, and known as L.A. to the family) are almost the same age, old enough to drive, and great friends who are protective of one another. Wright’s gift is superb characterization. Churchgoing Gram is firm, loving, accepting and solidly independent. Gram’s dear friend Dr. Kepler taught at Southern Methodist but lost all faith when her family was sent to Hitler’s ovens. Incidental characters sparkle, like Colossians Odell, a half-mad, street-dwelling basso profundo, and Froggy, neighborhood store clerk. L.A., “something hard and dangerous in her eyes,” has been sexually abused by her father, Cam. That damage, and the childhood abuse of Rachel and Leah that still echoes, play out against the murders of three teenage girls. One body, mutilated and staged, is discovered by L.A. and James. Other threads blend into the complex narrative. James desperately wants Diana Chamfort, whose father, Don, is a Dallas police lieutenant leading the murder investigation. James’ friend, Dee, a “gentle boy” with artistic talent, is relegated to military school with tragic results. Told from James’ point of view, the story moves along believably as James is confused and overwhelmed by family crises, danger from the serial killer and his sexual desire for Diana, only to ultimately learn: “Maybe the big plan didn’t call for people being entitled to explanations.”
A lyrical and realistic study of innocence lost.