Today's book is Creatures Here Below, by O.H. Bennett. The Philadelphia Tribune's review says, "...author O.H. Bennett grabs his readers by the hand and leads them through a house of miscommunication where everybody thinks too much and talks too little. Despite what I thought was a rocky start, Bennett’s characters become likeable in their frailties and failures, and the back-and-forth ripens into a welcome addition. Grab this book, and if you’re willing to be patient for a few pages, you’ll be rewarded by a bold story. In the end, Creatures Here Below is a novel you’ll be talking about."
The publisher is comparing this book to some of Edward P. Jones' work. I think it also bears favorable comparison to another Agate Bolden novel, Before I Forget by Leonard Pitts Jr. From the publisher's synopsis:
This powerful new novel by O.H. Bennett tells the story of a makeshift family struggling to stay together as life wears away at their bonds of blood and love. At the center of the family is Gail Neighbors, the hardworking single mother of two sons, Mason and Tyler. Mason, the older, grew up without knowing his father, Pony Reed, a feckless gambler and womanizer. Tyler, the younger, sings in the church choir and enjoys a close relationship with his father, Dan, who left Gail a few years before but still spends plenty of time at the house. To make ends meet, Gail has taken in two boarders: Annie, an elderly woman with a diminishing grip on reality, and Jackie, the twenty-year-old single mother of baby Cole, who can't fully accept her overwhelming new responsibilities.
To give you a feel for Bennett's writing, this is Mason in the first chapter, after a fight with a boy who made a joke "something about missing fathers and bastards":
"Most of the blood was Mason's. It caused his ripped shirt sleeve to cling to his upper arm. Small drops landed on the white leather toe of his right sneaker. Mason turned the key and pushed the door open. He tried to do everything softly. He held his hand under his elbow to catch the drips and moved silently through the dark house. He slipped into the downstairs bathroom, easing the door shut with his shoulder before pulling the chain on the light over the sink. Instantly a face appeared in front of him, a dark, narrow, and closed face with brooding eyes, and tiny dots of blood sprayed from hairline to chin. That blood would belong to the that brother who grinned too much, who talked too much."
This is Miss Annie, one of the two boarders, in chapter two:
"Miss Annie Gant woke gripped by pain in her left leg. The leg felt as if it was petrifying from her knee, hardening into a crooked column of stone beneath the sheets....She wanted to ask God for relief so she would not wake anyone, but Miss Annie was too afraid even to breathe. She wanted to disturb no one. No one must rush to her in the middle of the night as if she were a baby. Long, tortuous moments passed and she silently struggled in the dark. She could feel blood finally begin to flow back into her limb, feel the relief of veins, once like the twisting hairs through marble, as they swelled again, returning life to her leg. She let out her breath and with lips moving against the fabric of the pillowcase, whispered thanks to God for allowing her to keep quiet. She heard her prayer answered with an inquisitive whine. A wet, black nose shoved toward her face. 'Shh, Sarrie girl, don't wake nobody. I'm all right now Everything's all better. It's going away. I feel it letting go.'"And Gail, Mason's mother, who runs the boarding house:
"God is elusive. A preacher told Gail when she was still quiet young that to live life right is to search for Him each and every day like a miner in the deepest hold looking for that vein of gold. Gail searches on her knees in her dark closet. She is an old thirty-nine. She has borne three children: the first, the girl, Gail's mother took from her arms right after delivery. Gail could not find God then, though she called for Him. Gail's father, who would not stand for her mother's scheme, came back to help, but he was days late. He patted her hand while she remained bed-ridden and assured her he would find out where the child was sent and bring her back. But two days later he died of a heart attack and no one remained to champion Gail's cause. She called on God then too. But He did not come. A preacher who found Gail in the last pew late one Sunday night told her God would not come when she called, but if she lived a Christian life, she could go to Him and He would always be there for. So Gail began her search for God at every church and every sanctuary she came across. There were sweet, sweet times when she came close or thought she'd found Him, when the music of the choir and the shouted word of the gospel seized her and she swayed and rocked, burned in the divine light. But the moments of communion were brief and rare. Now, when others hopped and flailed in the aisles and professed their love for Jesus, she too clapped hands and gave praise, but eyed them with skepticism."
Right away, you can see this is a story about people in pain and their connection to one another. A connection that may see them through life's pain.
If you'd like a free copy of Creatures Here Below, leave a comment. Winner chosen at random and announced tomorrow. Please leave only one comment per person. Thanks and good luck! Remember, tomorrow, I'm giving away Keeping Secrets and Telling Lies by Trice Hickman.