Fourth of July Creek
by Smith Henderson
Published: 5/27/14 by Harper Collins
3.75 out of 5 stars
(or you can just round that up to 4 stars!)
First, a few warnings about this book.
If you are looking for a cheerful, uplifting story of redemption, this is not your book.
If you re looking for something to give you a glimmer of hope in this broken world, this is not your book.
If you are offended by bad language, this is not your book.
If you have difficulty reading stories about child abuse, this is not your book.
If you have made it through all of this list without shying away, then maybe this could be a book for you.
It's dark and edgy and grim and gritty. It's not a pretty story, and the writing spares no details when it comes to some of the horrors and tragedies experienced by these characters.
Yet, despite all the disclaimers above, I did find this to be an intriguing story. I've never been one to shy away from dark stories, and I think that is because they are usually so different from my own life experiences. I enjoy being able to get a glimpse of what life is like for people who are not like me. And these characters from rural Montana are definitely not like me!
Pete Snow, the main character in Fourth of July Creek, is a social worker trying to help kids in his rural Montana town of Tenmile. But just like the kids he is trying to help, Pete has plenty of problems of his own. When Pete tries to help a boy living in the woods, he comes face to face with the boy's father, Jeremiah Pearl, a conspiracy theorist who is anxiously and eagerly awaiting the End Times. As Pete's own family falls apart, he also begins to form a cautious and unlikely friendship with the Pearls, and he gets caught in the middle when the FBI come to town on the hunt for Pearl.
The idea that "abuse leads to more abuse" was illustrated clearly in this grim tale. I just felt so incredibly sad for all of these characters. They all appear to be stuck in the rut of following what their parents and grandparents have done before them, of living a life filled with abuse, pain, alcohol, drugs, sex, and regret. No one was happy. At all. I know this story is fiction and not based on real people, but I know there are many people in the world who live this way. It is terribly sad to think that people could spend their whole lives living like theses characters, without joy and without hope. I also found it interesting that the social workers in this story seemed to have the same problems and issues as the clients that they are trying to help. Pete said something to this effect in the story, "we take kids away from people like us." Yet, I still found myself rooting for Pete and wanting him to succeed, despite his flaws. He was far from perfect, but still he was trying to do good. I appreciated the real humanity of his character.
So while this story didn't make me feel good in any way, it was still captivating. It's hard to say I enjoyed reading it because of some of the tough content, but I still would say I liked the book quite a bit. I especially liked the parts when Pete interacted with Jeremiah Pearl and his son Benjamin, and when we were given glimpses into what their life was like before Pete met them. I also liked the "interviews" (I put that in quotes because I'm not convinced that they were really interviews...kind of wish there was a little more closure there) with Rachel, Pete's daughter. Although having two daughters of my own, those interviews were also terrifying for me to read!
I would recommend this book with a lot of caution, because it is definitely not for everyone. But if you are up for this gritty story full of flawed, troubled characters, it is well written and engaging and one that I won't forget for a while.