Friday, October 21, 2011
Where the Allegheny Meets the Monongahela by Felicia Watson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don't usually re-read a book three times in a row, but I did this one, because I could not get it out of my head--and that's a good thing.
Logan Crane is a man in crisis. He's a mechanic, but working a job he dislikes, he's under a lot of social and financial pressures, and, inarticulate at best, he's unable to express his true feelings even to himself. And one night, after a day full of frustration, he erupts in rage at his wife--she ends up in the hospital, he ends up in court. Nick Zales is a domestic abuse counselor. Openly gay, he's comfortable with himself and his sexuality. However, he is still dealing with what it means to be a child of abuse, every day, as he cares for his brain-injured mother.
Logan's court-assigned counselor lands him with a volunteer gig teaching auto maintenance and repair under a life skills program that Nick runs, and soon the men are working at restoring a classic car together. While the class makes Logan aware of the seriousness of his offense (and the importance of not repeating it), his time with Nick also threatens the protective shell he's built around his emotions and his sexuality.
I've spent some time with blue-collar Pennsylvanians, and a little time in Pittsburgh, and I think Watson really naileds the ethos and spirit of the city and people. After reading a lot of books where the setting might as well be BlandTown, USA, it was great to read a book that brings the setting--Pittsburgh--to life: the hilly streets, the working-class neighborhoods, and of course the rivers in the title.
Even the secondary characters in this book are fully fleshed out and come to life--Logan's wife, bitter but ready to move on; Trudy, Logan's counselor who is wise in some ways but misses other important things; and Sister Ciera, the nun who hopes against reason for rehabilitation of violent abusers--and finds her habit useful in bars.
This book also focuses a bit on an existing debate about domestic violence--what it's like, what kind of people perpetuate it, and why it's perpetuated. Logan is atypical of the kind of abuser that his counselor usually sees--he's only ever once been violent with his wife, and, in fact, all his violence (domestic and elsewhere) comes from the same source. In the course of the novel--through his therapy and his relationships with Nick and the women in the car repair class--he must learn to deal with this source so he can be free to love in happiness.
One of my top reads of the year.
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