29. April 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Helen, Historical Fiction

Then like the Blind Man: Orbie's Story by Freddie Owens, 324 pages, read by Helen, on 04/18/2013

A storm is brewing in the all-but-forgotten backcountry of Kentucky. And, for Orbie Ray, the swirling heavens may just have the power to tear open his family’s darkest secrets. Then Like The Blind Man: Orbie’s Story is the enthralling debut novel by Freddie Owens, which tells the story of a feisty wunderkind in the segregated South of the 1950s, and the forces he must overcome to restore order in his world. Evocative of a time and place long past, this absorbing work of magical realism offered with a Southern twist will engage readers who relish the Southern literary canon, or any tale well told.

Nine-year-old Orbie has his cross to bear. After the death of his father, his mother Ruby has off and married his father’s coworker and friend Victor, a slick-talking man with a snake tattoo. Now, Orbie, his sister Missy, and his mother haven’t had a peaceful moment with the heavy-drinking new man of the house. Orbie hates his stepfather more than he can stand; a fact that lands him at his grandparents’ place in Harlan’s Crossroads, Kentucky.

Orbie grudgingly adjusts to life with his doting Granny and carping Granpaw, who are a bit too keen on their black neighbors for Orbie’s taste, not to mention their Pentecostal congregation of snake handlers. And, when he meets the black Choctaw preacher, Moses Mashbone, he learns of powers that might uncover the true cause of his father’s death. As a storm of unusual magnitude descends, Orbie happens upon the solution to a paradox at once magical and ordinary. Question is, will it be enough?

Equal parts Hamlet and Huckleberry Finn, it’s a tale that’s rich in meaning, socially relevant, and rollicking with boyhood adventure. The novel mines crucial contemporary issues, as well as the universality of the human experience while also casting a beguiling light on boyhood dreams and fears. It’s a well-spun, nuanced work of fiction that is certain to resonate with lovers of literary fiction, particularly in the Southern tradition of storytelling.

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