Opening CRY FATHER and reading it is like grabbing hold of a low voltage wire of electric current. You think you can handle it --- and you can, for a minute or two. By the time you realize that it’s beyond you, it’s too late. The current is surging through your body, and you are, as they say, committed. There is no letting go.
Benjamin Whitmer is not a household name yet, but a few pages will have you searching out PIKE, his debut novel, so that you will have something to do after reading his latest, the same way that a meth addict scours the cracks in the living room couch for loose change before he’s even come down from his latest high. Forgive the comparison, but that’s how it is. I’ve been carrying CRY FATHER around since I finished it, opening it randomly and reading a paragraph or two when I’m otherwise idly waiting, perhaps in a line while a lady ahead of me begins laboriously writing a check after her shopping order has been totalled, or in my car as my ungrateful and unappreciative daughter strolls languidly toward me after her math class. I don’t wait well, but this book makes the wait bearable. No, it isn’t that good; it’s much, much better.
"It will shock you, astound you, make you laugh and break your heart. Repeatedly. Naturally, I loved every word of it, even the ones that Whitmer wisely left out. There is quite frankly no better way to spend your time than reading this book, particularly if you are a father or a son."
That is not to say that the subject matter is pleasant. What CRY FATHER concerns is the life equivalent of what you leave on the doormat when you politely wipe your feet before entering a house. From the moment you meet Patterson Wells, a tree trimmer with a sad history that he has partly inflicted upon himself, you know that the book is going to end badly by the way it begins. Picture a joke that starts with the line, “A guy walks into a house where his friend is snorting crystal meth off of a table, then walks into the bathroom, where he finds a woman beaten and hogtied in the tub.” It would be a lousy joke, for sure, and that summation, however poorly it may seem when compared to Whitmer’s brilliantly dark prose, isn’t funny either. Just try to stop reading, though. You have to know what happens next, after the guy (Wells) sets the woman free and his friend (Chase) takes some umbrage with that.
Repercussions abound, particularly when Wells, who is returning to his Colorado home in the off-season, uncorks a whole lot of baggage when he steps into a long-simmering generational family feud that uncorks the tragedies of his own past, ones that he holds at bay with prodigious amounts of alcohol with a quart tumbler of bad judgment on the side. The hits, as they say, just keep on coming, as Whitmer lays out what are not so much chapters as closely connected short stories the way a dealer on a riverboat casino deals cards out of an eight-deck shoe. You will be exhausted by the end of the novel but still want more.
CRY FATHER, as the title suggests with some understatement, says much about the relationship between fathers and sons, and even more about the lack thereof. It will shock you, astound you, make you laugh and break your heart. Repeatedly. Naturally, I loved every word of it, even the ones that Whitmer wisely left out. There is quite frankly no better way to spend your time than reading this book, particularly if you are a father or a son. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 19, 2014
- Publication Date: May 12, 2015
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Gallery Books
- ISBN-10: 1476734364
- ISBN-13: 9781476734361