Friday, March 13, 2015

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

The rural Montana depicted in Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson is a rough, hard-scrabble place and not an easy place to be a social worker. Pete Snow is a Montana social worker based in the small town of Tenmile. He is a decent man who has too much empathy for his own good. He often takes chances and breaks rules to keep dysfunctional families together, knowing that a foster home or institution might be a more damaging, dangerous place for children than a home headed by a drug-addicted parent. So when a young boy from a survivalist family wanders into town from the mountains, Pete buys him some clothes, food and medicine and escorts him back into the wilderness. There he meets the boy’s father, Jeremiah Pearl. Over time, Pete befriends Jeremiah and his son, Benjamin. He learns that Benjamin is just one child in a large family but, mysteriously, he never encounters any of the others. At the same time, Pete must continue to tend to the needs of his other difficult clients. Further, when his own family, having its own problems, disintegrates, he loses his wife and daughter.

Fourth of July Creek is set in the very early 1980’s after President Reagan is shot, the Pearls and other survivalists come under closer scrutiny by agents of the Federal Government. Mistrust and ignorance on both sides complicate matters and violence erupts in town and in the mountains. Pete Snow is a man caught in the middle—a government agent who has compassion for those with anti-government inclinations. Fanaticism and violence can only end in tragedy even though a good man, Pete Snow, does his futile best to prevent it.