Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer

cryfather-by-benjamin-whitmerIf you live long enough, you have the opportunity to reflect on your choices. If you are fortunate these choices are made deliberately, by conscious will, or not so by the shear movement of life — the propulsion of events that are beyond your control.

Patterson Wells is a man defined by a single event of which he had no choice — the death of his young son, Justin. Unable to cope, though he tries through a journal he keeps with touching, heartfelt letters to his son, he propels himself through the life with risk and recklessness.

Patterson works a dangerous job in disaster recovery, clearing away debris from fires, floods, tornadoes and all forms of natural disaster, and working along side men just as reckless and dangerous as the work he consumes. Long days, sleepless nights, allows Patterson to push away the pain, and what pain remains he dulls with booze, drugs, and the occasional bar fight.

While Cry Father primarily focuses on Patterson, Wells is not the only broken soul fighting against past sins and regrets. Through Patterson we meet Henry, a former rodeo rider in his twilight, and Henry’s son Junior, who runs drugs to Colorado for the Cartel and hates his father. Then there is Patterson’s ex-wife, Laney, who still love him and wants him to face Justin’s death, to mourn with her and live life again. Unwittingly, her well meaning attempts to help Patterson let go only pushes him away and into the company of Junior.

From the first chapter, Benjamin Whitmer establishes a teetering balance of violence and humanity that sets the mood and expectation for the rest of the novel. Cry Father, like Whitmer’s freshman novel Pike, is a brutal examination of man’s capability for self-destruction swaddled in the hope of redemption. Do men like Patterson Wells ever find hope? Do they deserve it?

This story of fathers — of choices, and of mistakes — connects deeply with me as a father and as a son. I’d like to believe there is hope for making up for past mistakes, but the reality is sometimes there isn’t ever time enough. We just move forward until we no longer do.

While I shamble into my future, I hope it is filled with more Benjamin Whitmer.

PIKE by Benjamin Whitmer

I’m not a drink the Kool-Aid type of guy, but sometimes you can’t ignore the buzz that falls off the lips of friends and colleagues. This past holiday season one book made a very loud buzz and so I imbibed.

And it was good.

pike-whitmerBenjamin Whitmer‘s PIKE is a barn burner. Once you crack open the book you won’t stop until the bitter end. PIKE is a hard book, wrapped in shards of reality the casual reader may object. This book won’t find itself on any Cozy List anytime soon.

The book’s protagonist, if he can be called that, Pike, is an irredeemable man who spent a hard violent life on the wrong side of the law. Pike has regrets, as do we all, but they only manifest when he is presented with his grand daughter, Wendy, and told his daughter who he barely knew was dead.

The death of a bad man’s daughter is usually where the story turns to one of redemption, but this is Pike and Pike knows what side of the Angels he stands. No, Pike is fueled by needing to know the whys and wherefores. A vengeful path that will ride him headlong into the book’s antagonist, if he can be called that.

Pike isn’t the first character we are introduced to in the book, Derrick Kreiger, a bent Cincinnati cop, is unveiled as the catalyst that starts a race riot after he shoots an unarmed black kid. A violent start to a violent unpredictable book.

On this path, Pike is joined by Rory a bar room brawler from West Virginia with dreams boxing professionally. Addicted to painkillers and holding an easy lit fuse, Rory represents a younger Pike, one that  Pike doesn’t want to see become that man he is.

While Pike is the center note of the book, it becomes clear that this book isn’t about good versus bad, protagonist versus antagonist. PIKE is about the characters’ points of view and the paths those points of view take. Ultimately colliding the book’s cast violently together.

Is Pike redeemable by the end? Would you like some Kool-Aid?