Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fiction: Okay for Now

It's 1968: the Vietnam war is raging. The Americans are about to put a man on the moon. Doug Swieteck is about to move to a small town named Marysville in upstate New York.

Doug's dad is a blue collar worker with a temper, and he's not shy with his fists. One brother is away in Vietnam: another spends his spare time stealing Doug's prize possessions. Doug's life sucks, even before he's forcibly relocated to a small town where everybody thinks he's a brainless thug.

It'd be nice to say that everything changes when when Doug discovers a book of original Audubon bird illustrations at the local library: in fact, things are looking up for a while, as the librarian gives him art lessons, his English teacher helps him out with reading, and he gets a job delivering groceries (it helps that he's sweet on the grocer's daughter).

But Doug's pretty sure that just when you think life might be alright, that's when it kicks you down. Sure enough, Doug's older brother comes home from Vietnam without his legs, and the entire town gives his family the cold shoulder when Doug's brother is accused of stealing. To deal with his disappointment and turbulent family life, Doug focuses on restoring the missing Audubon prints to the library book.

It seems like the town has been using the priceless book as a bank: everytime they need money, town council excises an illustration, and sells it for profit. This leaves the book tragically incomplete, and Doug feels so strongly about it that he's willing to do almost anything to retrieve the dispersed pages. Collecting all of them is a faint hope, especially since he's got a budget of exactly zero; but as he gets to know the town and its inhabitants, Doug finds that he's got a surprising amount of credit with the people who care for him.

This is a poignant story about overcoming loss and circumstance. Doug finds hope and redemption in art, while staying true to his blue-collar, 1960's American roots. Every word in this tale rings true, and we're left believing that the characters will find happiness, even as we mourn the tragedies that they've experienced.


Grades 10-12

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