Ash Falls by Warren Read

Ash Falls chronicles the news of a prison escapee in the 1980s and its effects on a ash fallscommunity, as told through several viewpoints.

Ash Falls is a small town in the mountains of Washington State with a dicey economy.  Everyone knows everybody else and their business.  There’s a sense of security in this, but also confinement.

When Ernie Luntz, en route from a maximum to a medium security prison in Washington State, leaves the prison system through a tragic twist of luck, his potential reappearance looms over Ash Falls where his ex-wife and teenage son live, with much speculation as to what will happen if he returns there.

Bobbie Luntz, nurse at the local high school, gave up on their marriage long before Ernie went to jail for bludgeoning a mouthy teenager during a town festival.  She lives a sort of half-life as a mom and maintains a faltering affair with Hank Kelleher, a pot-dealing retired school teacher who lives in the woods away from town.

Hank has his own issues with aging, and a love/hate relationship with his sister Lyla Henry and her family.  Lyla and husband Jonas have held forth with a certain middle class snobbishness while raising a son who is everything they are not – a troublemaker from day one who is now in his early twenties and married to seventeen-year-old Marcelle.

Marcelle sees an early marriage as an easy getaway from the doldrums of high school.  Unfortunately, it is no escape for her, as her husband Eugene is an emotional man-child, their marriage loveless, her mother-in-law overly critical, and overeating her only solace.

Bobbie’s son Patrick and Marcelle were close friends in high school before she got married.  Within the confines of Ash Falls, Patrick barely fits in, and at times, he runs away to foster home of sorts in Seattle, where the situation seems more real to him.  Patrick bides his time finishing school while working part-time at a mink farm.  The job is dirty and tedious and his boss is an old crank, but Patrick finds a sort of structure there.

In capturing the claustrophobic feel of a small town, the novel excels.  There’s a real sense of hopelessness here, the only glimmers of hope being in the aftermath of tragedies.  The small town America the author evokes here could be anywhere in the country, and even if the story happens thirty years ago, the setting still resonates.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

 

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