Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

It’s hard to save someone, even if it’s your job, when you can barely fourth of julysave yourself.

As a social worker, thirty-something Pete Snow gets into some sticky situations with his clients.  At the beginning of the book, he’s called to a home by the police to sort out a domestic brawl between a mother and son.  Pete is all too aware of these folks’ drug problems – his main concern is with the younger child.

Families like these are Pete’s charges, in a largely rural area of northwestern Montana, and most of them aren’t quick fixes.

Pete’s own family life is in shambles – he has separated from his wife, they have a teenage daughter who barely speaks to him, and he is a lush, to say the least.  Pete’s brother has an on/off relationship with the prison system, and their father, a successful rancher, has a decided disdain for his sons’ choice of living.

The story picks up when the county school calls Pete to check on a feral young boy hanging out at the school.  The child is the son of Jeremiah Pearl, a reclusive survivalist who seems to exist on rumor alone, until Pete meets him in person, along with the blunt end of a rifle.  It takes a while, but Pete eventually wins the Pearls’ trust.

Mr. Pearl soon earns the interest of certain federal agencies, who determine that his actions verge on domestic terrorism; they are bent on his apprehension, but Pearl knows this rough country far better than they do.  And Pete, all good intentions, is caught between them all.

Then his estranged daughter goes missing.

Fourth of July Creek is a sprawl of a book, a crazy yarn of messed-up people.  The book has its depressing places, but there’s a redemptive note, an occasional sense of hope and innocence among the depravity.  At approximately 470 pages, it had the potential to be a tome, but the pages started turning pretty quickly – at least they did for me.

The main story is Pete’s, interspersed with chapters about his daughter, which are written in the form of an interview.  These were confusing at first (you’re not sure who the interviewer is) but they started to make sense early on in the reading.

The time period for the novel is the early 1980s, when the Cold War was still in effect and a political shift was definitely in the works.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


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