Book Nook: Cry Father, by Benjamin Whitmer
Some of us read horror novels because we want to feel scared without having to worry about our fears. Then there's a genre of novels that are so gnarly and tough that they could make readers scream. Our screams would be sympathetic ones because the characters in these stories can elicit our emotions. As they go about the gritty business of their tattered lives we might feel like screaming just to release some of the tensions these tales can build up. Sometimes life isn't pretty. We know that. That's why we read books about these kinds of things. Because there but for the grace of God go we. Ben Whitmer's latest novel Cry Father takes readers down some rather dark highways. At least we'll still have the option of stopping, turning around, and going back. His characters don't.
Here's my review that ran in the Dayton Daily News:
Benjamin Whitmer’s second novel, Cry Father, is set primarily in the arid San Luis Valley region of southern Colorado. Whitmer lives in the Denver area. He spent some of his youth in Ohio’s Miami Valley, in Yellow Springs. He made lasting friendships here. Memories of adventures with some old friends exerted profound influences upon this story. A buddy from Yellow Springs first introduced Whitmer to the stark beauty of that part of Colorado. Another Ohio friend provided an occupational model for Patterson Wells, his central character in Cry Father. Early in the story Wells meets a woman. She’s curious about him, why does he have so many tattoos? He explains: “I’m a tree trimmer.” In his acknowledgments Whitmer reveals that the Wells character was inspired by stories recounted to him by this longtime friend, a man who has spent years working one of the most dangerous jobs of America, clearing storm debris, tree limbs that have landed on power lines. When Wells isn’t cleaning up after the most recent hurricane he returns to his simple cabin in the Colorado mountains. As this tale begins he has just stopped in to visit a friend. He thought they might go fishing. His friend is indisposed: “Patterson Wells walks through the front door to find Chase working on a heap of crystal meth the size of his shrunken head.” Wells takes this demonic scene in stride. He asks if he can use the bathroom? That is where he makes another shocking discovery. These first few pages set the tone for what is to follow, a rampage of a story that careens and dives with breakneck speed and finally leaves the reader gasping, all wrung out, yet pleasantly exhausted. Whitmer has described his style of writing as “country noir.” His admiration for the freakishly imaginative fiction of the late Harry Crews seems apparent. Whitmer’s work will fit right in alongside offerings by writers such as Daniel Woodrell, Donald Ray Pollock and Frank Bill. Cry Father skims along on a cresting wave of drugs and violence. Don’t expect to encounter many admirable characters. Wells consorts with some deranged individuals. The baddest dude by far is a guy named Junior. He has had a child with a woman who wants Junior to clean up his life. She implores him: “I mean it, Junior. You need to find something else to do.” But Junior cannot turn away from the easy money he is making dealing drugs. Wells is coping with some deep grief. This novel is interspersed with diary entries addressed to someone named Justin. We realize after reading a few of those that Wells is communicating with a son who has died. The title Cry Father begins to be understood. This isn’t the only tortured father/son relationship in this book. And the author addresses another concern; what do men really want? Here’s what one of Whitmer’s characters says : “A man does need more. He needs a greater orbit than exists for him. He needs a life worthy of his heart. Of God’s heart. He needs a war, a crusade, a maiden to rescue.” Our story whipsaws right along until every twisted strand of these intertwined lives unravels in a culmination that’s ugly, bloody and so real. Whitmer is one dazzling storyteller. He writes beautifully.