John Williams of The New York Times reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
Smith Henderson's first novel, "Fourth of July Creek," is set in Montana in the early 1980s. It tells the story of Pete Snow, a social worker who tries to help troubled and abused children. One of them is Benjamin Pearl, a malnourished 11-year-old living off the grid with his anarchist father, Jeremiah. Pete is threatened by the angry father, but is determined to help the vulnerable boy.
Pete's own life is in disarray. His wife leaves him, taking their 13-year-old daughter, Rachel, to Texas. When Rachel runs away from her mother, the novel follows her descent into a world full of danger, where she becomes the very type of kid her father works to save.
The core of the novel is Pete's relationship with the Pearls. Jeremiah, who believes the apocalypse is nigh, eventually softens toward Pete, but remains a volatile and possibly violent figure. The story of what happened to Jeremiah's wife and his other children is slowly unveiled, and devastating when it's finished.
This sprawling debut is as confidently written and fully imagined as anything you'll read this year.
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