Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive...'
Thank you to Walter Scott, Marmion Canto vi, for the now rather hackneyed yet perfect quote ( and don't worry, I didn't know either and had to look it up) to describe White Crosses by Larry Watson.
So about a week to go before Christmas, all my festive reading sorted, trees to decorate and hand-made presents still to be finished and I am idly wandering around the blogs for a catch-up, when I head to Canada where Kevin has written about White Crosses.
Now I have no plans to head to 1957 and small town America over Christmas, my reading is chosen and is unashamedly parochial. Bleak House, Miss Brooke, some Dorothy Whipple and the lengthy novel by A.S.Byatt. I've got a lovely pile of Slightly Foxed at my right hand and a stack of new books for January which look very enticing... no I am very alright for reading thank you.
Perhaps it happens to you when you visit here, but the minute I read Kevin's review I knew I had to read the book....
"Anyone who has driven the rural highways of Prairie Canada or the United States has experienced the phenomenon: the white crosses, often with a bunch of very weathered plastic flowers tied to them, by the side of the road to mark and commemorate the site of a fatal accident. They supply the title for Larry Watson’s novel and come to Bentrock, Montana Sheriff Jack Nevelsen’s mind as he is heading out of town to a fatal accident in response to a call from his deputy..."
Bit cheeky pilfering someone else's blog post (sorry Kevin!) but the roadside shrines are a feature in this country too, and in this local area where we often knew the person whose life has been so tragically lost and exactly when and how. I tend to drive past and find the person darting into my thoughts unbidden... perhaps wondering how the family are now... how old might the person have been now. Always recalling the tragedy of the young lad from the village as I pass that fateful bend on the way home and whose gravestone reads 'Sadly not invincible' , and any mother of sons will understand the import of those words, and so I was intrigued by the premise of White Crosses.
A Kindle sample confirmed what I already knew ( and I do like these, often a real deal breaker either way) my sort of writing and reading, and with apologies to authors, publishers et al I summoned up a 1p proper copy which arrived in time for a bit of greedy pre-Christmas consumption.
So there has been a road accident on the night of the high school graduation celebrations, two dead and chances are they might be teenagers. When Jack Nevelson arrives at the carnage, to his confusion and dismay it is indeed one teenager June Moss, but the other victim is the head teacher of the local junior school, and supposed happy family man Leo Bauer... and there are suitcases. The potential repercussions are too great for Jack to contemplate but sufficient for him to make the decision that he must concoct an alternative version in order to protect the reputation of... well who exactly??
Leo Bauer.. not a particularly close friend of Jack's with little cause for loyalty or fidelity to his memory
June, or June's family?
In fact, taking the National Sheriff's Association handbook that sits on his desk at its word, Jack decides it is the town he must protect, the entire community..
'The sheriff is required to protect the person, property, health and morals of every citizen in the county and these rights and possessions must not only be protected, they must be made continuosly safe.'
And so Jack Nevelson starts to weave a version of a possible truth that will be, in his eyes, for the good of the town.
The far-reaching consequences lay to one side, ready to make an entrance at specific points in the book, and I wonder whether any reader of White Crosses will be able to anticipate them. I certainly didn't as Larry Watson carried me headlong into Jack's plan alongside him, I didn't think ahead for one minute and when the various pitfalls appeared I was as surprised and as unprepared as Jack. The hole Jack digs for himself becomes deeper and deeper, more and more lies and manipulation are required to shore up the deep and grave-like sides of his story.
Jack Nevelson a man deeply aware of his own flaws and shortcomings, a harsh self-critic, unforgiving and increasingly deluded and obsessive, and cleverly delineated by Larry Watson who delves deep below the surface in his expose of a misguided but ultimately well-meaning man. The satellites in Jack's life, his wife Nora and daughter Angela, pose increasing difficulties for a man torn between duty and home, and a recurring image of throwing stones struck me (sorry!) as a significant metaphor with its connotations of pain and punishment, and damage and humiliation.
The ending when I arrived there, rather breathless because I'll admit I steamed through this book knowing I couldn't put it down to go and decorate things and wrap presents without knowing the outcome, well that left me gasping a bit too. So all in all a surprising and brilliant read, another writer to add to the list of 'must-read-more' and having ordered a copy of Larry Watson's Montana 1948 I have only just stopped myself opening it immediately... I need White Crosses to do its stuff first because weeks after finishing it I am still thinking about it a lot.
Any other Larry Watson readers out there??
Any recommends of similar gratefully received.