Benjamin Whitmer (co-author of Charlie Louvin's autobiography, Satan Is Real; Pike) stands squarely in that "rural noir" sub-genre niche of tweakers and trigger-happy drunks worked so effectively by Daniel Woodrell, Larry Brown and Rick Gavin. Whitmer's Cry Father is an accomplished, swaggering tale of battered-but-still-striving men living in the no-man's land of southeast Colorado. It's a male-centric story of fathers and sons whose women are ex-wives, girlfriends, baby mamas and nursemaids--but not much more. Nonetheless, Whitmer hardly needs them to tell his often-violent story of men hanging on to whatever slivers of redemption they can find.
Patterson Wells is an itinerant tree trimmer called in after tornadoes, floods and other natural disasters to clear power lines and occasionally pull bodies out of the debris. With his dog, Sancho, and a bottle of Evan Williams bourbon, he jumps in his Ford Ranger to cash in on calamity wherever it turns up before sleepwalking home to his rudimentary cabin on a mesa in the San Luis Valley. After his young son Justin's death from a botched surgery, the divorced Patterson ("maybe forty-five, and a hard forty-five at that... old enough that when the cocaine runs out of his system it takes most of his brains with it") clings precariously to the companionship of Sancho, his still-sympathetic ex-wife and his neighbor Henry--a broke-down, recovering alcoholic and former rodeo bull rider. It's a life, but not much of one. Were it not for his majestic view of Blanca Peak in the Rockies' Sangre de Cristo Range, bourbon, Vicodin, blow and his diary-like letters to Justin, it would be no life at all. When Henry's drug-running, drug-toking, sh*t-kicking son Junior shows up from Denver to rail against the once-absent, abusive father he thinks screwed up his life, Patterson's marginally tolerable life takes a turn for the worse.
Junior is a mule for the Mexican La Familia cartel. He drives his matte-black 1969 Dodge Charger ("what's the point of being a drug runner if you can't drive a cool car") up and down I-25 between the Juarez connection and his dealer in a seedy corner of Denver ("within two miles of six Superfund sites, one of which happens to be the neighborhood itself"). In a misguided attempt to protect Henry, Patterson gets sucked into Junior's fast and loose life of cinderblock bars, Mexican whores and a bulked-up, tattooed, pony-tailed Denver cartel enforcer. In Junior's turbulent wake, Patterson learns to accept his own failings as a father, husband, friend--and to pick himself up, concluding: "Nothing ends, nothing heals. Not that I'd have it any other way." Whitmer is one helluva storyteller, and Cry Father nails it on all fronts.
Bruce Jacobs' review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness.