Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Coming of Age in a Small Town

Robin Yocum http://robinyocum.com/books/ spoke at Thurber House http://thurberhouse.org/index.html (Columbus, OH) on July 6th, 2016 to a crowd of 200 fans. The weather was gorgeous and the temps just perfect for an outside picnic and book talk. Yocum spoke of his journalism career on the police desk at the Columbus (OH) Dispatch where he wrote about many local and state crimes. After a career in journalism, Yocum turned his hand to first true crime and then fiction.

Combine a coming of age book with a murder mystery, you get Robin Yocum's newest mystery "A Brilliant Death." Set in Brilliant,Ohio, it's the story of Travis Baron's search for how is mother died fifteen years earlier. Travis Baron and his friend Mitchell Malone seek out truth about her disappearance. Malone spins a tale of their friendship, their investigation, and the sad truth behind the death. 

Yocum is a wonderful wordsmith bringing characters to life one descriptive word at a time. Yocum's writing isn't over wordy but to the point, drawing the reader into the investigation, into life in small town Brilliant which is full of secrets just waiting to be uncovered. While Yocum says his current works feature teenagers who search for answers to mysteries in their lives, he writes for adults. 

Indeed, his stories are gritty, full of violence and heartbreak, and the trials of coming to age in dying towns in Ohio’s rust belt. A Brilliant Death is the perfect confluence of love, searching for the truth, and uncovering the past. Once you read Yocum’s newest book, you’ll wonder how you missed his earlier fiction, Favorite Sons and The Essay.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Messing with the Environment

Every year new books proclaim the ills of damaging the environment through pollution and mineral exploitation. Jennifer Haigh's 2016 book Heat & Light is the newest in a string of books about how man ravages the land and destroys mother nature. Heat & Light focuses on the fracking industry and its ills. The fracking salesmen from various companies, including Dark Elephant aka Darco Energy arrive in Bakerton PA, a depressed agricultural county. Some farmers sign right away on the dotted line, others hold out for more money. All see the leases as a way to add their savings, to make all the ends meet. 

By now we know that fracking isn't all it's cracked up to be (no pun intended). The residents of Bakerton discover that there aren't jobs for locals even if the bars are full and crime is up. More importantly, they were not ready for damage to the environment, polluted water, clear cut acres of land, traffic detours, damaged roads, light pollution, and ever-present noise. You’ll think twice about signing a lease, or living near a fracking (hydraulic fracturing) operation. 

I liked the characters who were well fleshed out with lots of back story. But the back stories broke up the chronology and the flow of the story. Missing were descriptions of investigation into corporate corruption, dumping and toxic waste, and the threatened lawsuits. Then again, Haigh was focused on the race to drill and not the aftermath. 

As I read Heat & Light, I kept thinking about other books and movies on the same topic. Promised Land with Matt Damon (2012) who plays a salesman for an oil & gas company bidding for fracking leases http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2091473/. The movie is full of the rhetoric of the oil & gas company and their drive to lease all the land in any given county. Of course, there's a surprise ending to this movie. 

Two quintessential titles on the topic of pollution by big corporation and investigating the damages are A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr (1996) which will drag you into the world of corporate corruption and hidden secrets just as the movie starring John Travolta the damages to humans damaged by toxic waste. And Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts (2000) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0195685/ where the heroine investigates pollution and cancer digging into all types of records. 

Ohio author Carla Buckley's Invisible (2012) is about water pollution. Buckley is an environmental scientist and her books revolve around the environment going crazy.

One of  Kate Wilhelm’s early books is Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976), a dystopian novel about pollution and toxic fall out from nuclear waste. Her Barbara Holloway series also grapples with environmental pollution.

What review of environmental hazards, toxicity, and waste is complete without the ground breaking book by Rachel Carson Silent Spring (1962). More than fifty years old, the book still holds lessons for each generation. 

 Of course you could read more about fracking and oversight by the federal government and the EPA on their website https://www.epa.gov/hydraulicfracturing