Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Timely Story of Family and Community from T. Jefferson Parker

This is a very moving and beautifully written novel of a family and a community under siege. Patrick Norris's family has been growing avocados near the town of Fallbrook in southern California for decades, but the farm and the region have been suffering the effects of a long-running drought that has taken a particularly hard toll on the Norris family farm and on many others as well. 

Avocado trees are very sensitive plants and only about a million things can go wrong before the avocados are harvested. The last thing they need in addition to the lack of rainfall is a wildfire that sweeps through the region and destroys many of the trees. Patrick has been away from home, fighting with the Marines in Afghanistan, and he returns to find the farm on the brink of failing. The crops are ruined; his father and mother are already extended almost to the limit, and the banks will not loan any more money.

Patrick has long made it clear that he has no interest in farming. His dream in life is to own a small boat and guide sport fishermen. But he agrees to put his dreams on hold in an effort to help his parents and his brother try to save the farm.

Patrick is very happy to be back from Afghanistan, but like a lot of other returning servicemen and women, he carries a considerable amount of baggage from the war. In addition to all the other problems confronting him is his older brother, Ted.

Ted is a tormented soul who seems incapable of doing anything right, certainly in the eyes of his father. He firmly believes that government at every level is his enemy and everyone else's. This extends all the way to the mayor of the small community that is suffering so badly. Ted, who was carrying "a solid D average," has been kicked out of college for drawing and posting a nasty cartoon critical of the mayor, and he's fallen in with a rough crowd of white supremacists. Patrick loves his brother and does everything he can to save him, but the challenge is an enormous one.

In a way, the Norris family and the town of Fallbrook can be seen as stand-ins for any number of individuals and communities who are struggling to adapt to changing times and circumstances in the United States of the early twenty-first century. Parker writes elegantly and sympathetically of these characters, their community, and their precarious place in the world. He draws you into their lives and gives you a ringside seat as the community and each of these characters attempts to make their way under extremely difficult circumstances. It can be hard to watch at times, but it's a beautifully written and very timely story.

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