Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Small Town Tragedy

Snow Angels
Snow Angels 

"I WAS IN THE BAND the fall my father left, in the second row of trombones, in the middle because I was a freshman. Tuesdays and Wednesdays after school we practiced in the music room, but on Fridays Mr. Chervenick led us outside in our down jackets and tasseled Steeler hats and shitkicker boots and across the footbridge that spanned the interstate to the middle school soccer field, where, like the football team itself, we ran square-outs and curls and a maneuver Mr. Chervenick called an oblique, with which, for the finale of every halftime show, we described—all 122 of us—a whirling funnel approximating our school’s nickname, the Golden Tornadoes."

   I first discovered Stewart O'Nan through his non-fiction when I read The Circus Fire: A True Story. It was a very good book and ever since then I thought I should read his fiction. I am glad I did because it is also very good, especially Snow Angels which is very good for a first novel. Growing up in a small town myself and playing in the high school band I could relate in part to the story of Arthur Parkinson. While I have not experienced the tragedy and difficult home life he relates in his story and that of his neighbor Annie Marchand, the author brings them alive in his vivid portrayal of their lives and the lives of their family and friends.
   The story links two families, almost indirectly, by a tragedy that affects them in enormously painful ways. Set in a rural community in Pennsylvania in mid-1970, the story builds around the lives of the two main characters, Arthur Parkinson and Annie Marchand. Arthur, who narrates the chapters about his part in this heartbreaking story, is a 14-year-old high school student who is dealing with his family’s slowly decaying break-up. At the same time, a narrator who gives us the picture of her dismal, failing marriage and careless lifestyle tells Annie’s chaotic story.
   The unnatural seems natural and the uncommon as common as it can be through O'Nan's elegant yet simple prose which leads the reader through the events that shaped these lives. I recommend this novel and author (and the film version as well).

Nothing is deader than this small town main street,
where the venerable elm sickens, and hardens
with tarred cement, where no leaf
is born, or falls, or resists till winter.

But I remember its former fertility,
how everything came out clearly
in the hour of credulity
and young summer, when this street
was already somewhat overshaded,
and here at the altar of surrender,
I met you,
the death of thirst in my brief flesh.
- Robert Lowell ___

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