Old Border Road by Susan Froderberg languishes on the tongue and faints harshly and tenderly onto the senses. The language forms its own chiaroscuro as it dives into the landscape of arid southern Arizona, the dill weed, the cacti, the thrust and feint of harsh and dusty dirt that settles into the bones as one waits for the onset of rain. Froderberg tantalizes and undulates within Katherine’s voice and her own, a voice tinged with emotional resonance amid sentences that tangle and untangle like a skein of yarn. Like E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, this writing seers an unconscious landscape into the characters and the setting. Original as The Bone People by Keri Hulme, each sentence proves an art form defined and undefined, flowing and effluvial as currents cresting stones in a river. I did not believe that this was a first novel: the thematic of drought in the Arizona southlands pivot against the drought in Katherine’s marriage and family life, and provide structure for the absolute precision of language in Froderberg’s novel. Froderberg drives the reader into the aridity and drought; I entered into the landscape along with the characters. So reminiscent of Steinbeck!
Katherine’s young marriage beings against the insouciance of her father, who has married a new woman and the ineffectuality of her mother, a woman who drinks in men as if they were the potion of life. At seventeen she meets Son, the son of a rancher called Daddy and his wife Rose. They marry. The old man calls her Girl, Rose calls her Dear Girl and Son calls her Darlin’. The loss of Katherine’s name recalls the loss of her innocence, as she faces the brutality of the drought, both inside and out, anonymously, for she has lost herself in Son’s indifference and infidelity. It is not just the loss of name that attacks her. Son, like his father, likes to go out of a night and see the girls, coming home with their scent in Katherine’s nostrils. Rose, Son’s mother, accepts that Daddy “goes out” on her, especially with the alluring Pearl Hart, the county beauty graced with important family, money and power. Pearl is married to Ham and they have an open marriage. Rose feels blessed that such a woman has graced her Daddy’s bed, and tells Katherine she has learned many things from Daddy’s loose tongue. Faced with a family that embraces open marriages and a husband who drinks and sluts around, Katherine impales herself on doubt, confusion, and then rage. She comes to love Daddy and Rose, however. Taken advantage of by the new Padre, Katherine overcomes loathing and indifference in Ham’s kindness.
As the heat rises and lingers, Rose goes to bed to die. Daddy visits her at night to fulfill his manly needs, while she dies. Daddy, Son and Katherine take her ashes and throw them over the bridge, into the river that does not run due to the heat. As they realize the emptiness of the river, they return home and sift the ashes that fly back into their faces in the brutal hot gushes of wind into Rose’s dead garden.
As his grief shatters him, Daddy blows his brains out, and suddenly Katherine is alone with Son – with no one. She leaves and goes to Ham’s but when Son beseeches her to come back, she does. The only characters with names in this novel are the workman, Harty, Ham and Pearl, the largest and most affluent landowners in the county, and their stallion, Holy Roller. Man’s anonymity against a brutal nature pings against our consciousness within Froderberg’s genius. And yet the novel is all human, with every human frailty and strength represented within the characters.
Like A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley and Steinbeck’s East of Eden, we see the Biblical connotations that arise throughout Froderberg’s novel. Daddy and Rose are as Adam and Eve, and Rose finds her passion through the garden. As the dust blows it away and destroys life all around, she must leave the only way that she can. Daddy, a moral and ethical man of wisdom in his own way, finds that his mistakes are too horrible to handle, and like Adam Trask in East of Eden, he devours himself.
Ham tells Katherine that his daughter, named Pearl’s Daughter, who has been with Son since his marriage to Katherine is pregnant, and Katherine knows Son is the father of the unborn child. She aborts her own pregnancy, and stays leeward of the surging dust winds.
As the story words into its own ending, Son is gravely injured just before the Big Flood that eats the town up and destroys everything in its path. Like Sodom and Gomorra, Son and Katherine have looked back, and turned to salt. When she can finally get through the flooded lands, Katherine takes Son to the hospital, but it is too late. And Katherine goes on living, the only person in this vast tundra that knows how to do so.
No words needed. Magnificent, torrid and torrential writing prepare a language and landscape full of despair, loss, family, love and grief. Old Border Road creates its own star in the galaxy, spilling into the Milky Way. Startling and original from page one to the end, this novel speaks on many levels and throughout, we are absolutely mesmerized with the original writing and technique which mirrors the landscape, both inner and outer. This novel detonates with word, aspiration and the terrain of men and women in a world that leeches them dry. And yet Katherine, the Christmas cactus, blooms. I could not put it down, truly. This novel will be reckoned with as a first novel of great acclaim.
Old Border Road is available on Amazon.com and at bookstores nationwide.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.
- Click HERE to Tweet this giveaway it auto fills your tweet and you get credit each time you twitter and report back. (unlimited entries)
- Blog about this giveaway on YOUR blog!
- Follow the Review Broads – on the sidebar
- Subscribe to The Review Broads for FREE
- Link to this giveaway on your Facebook page
- Become a fan of The Broads on Facebook
- Follow Broad “Z” on twitter.
- Grab our badge from the sidebar and add it to your site.
* Be sure to leave a comment letting me know if you’ve done any of these (if you already subscribe or have our badge – please note that in the comments as well).
* This giveaway is open to US residents, 18 and over and ends on December 14, 2010 11:59 EST.
* Good Luck