Thursday, October 18, 2018

South of the Big Four by Don Kurtz

Arthur was an Indiana farm kid turned Great Lakes sailor, now grounded by a shipping slump. There's a deafening indifference to his hometown return, but he finds a job - then a mentor and friend - when he's hired by grain farmer Gerry Maars.

This novel reminded me of Kent Haruf's books - small stories under a big sky, where tough men work the earth. The continuity of fieldwork keeps Arthur in perpetual motion: picking, planting, plowing. But he's going nowhere, working the same spots over and over. The rest of his life is just as small.

Gerry's a gentleman farmer, councilman, community do-er and general man about town. But he's maybe not as important as he thinks he is (a big fish in a very small pond), and he's maybe not as smart as he believes, either. In Arthur, he finds solid help and an easy listener. Somebody to nod along and let him rant.

It's a story about the contrast between the two men, neither exactly what you expect at first glance. I enjoyed the gentle rhythm of the story and the beautiful writing. The bit of drama at the end surprised me, in a good way.

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