I'm not sure what I expected when I picked up this book. I know I didn't expect to be as drawn in as I was to this town's story. Rene Steinke has written an excellent novel about how a town copes when bad luck and bad business collide.
The town of Friendswood is anything but friendly. Sure, it's got all the requisite trappings of small town life - football heroes, backyard barbeques with neighbors - but when push comes to shove, most of the town folks run into their homes and hide.
Leah is the exception. She latches on to the tragedy and proceeds to find out what exactly is happening in her town. Her perseverance is what ropes us in and carries us through the end. It starts when her daughter, Jess, becomes seriously ill after finding a black and oozing substance in the backyard. Jess eventually dies and more people get sick. Various cancers and other fatal diseases attack the town. People move away. They die anyway. Leah's husband, Jack, divorces her. Leah starts digging and finds evidence implicating the nearby oil company. Ultimately, Leah cannot let go of what she thinks she must do in her daughter's name. She is drawn deeper into despair and oftentimes mistrusts what she knows is true. She fights against those who are constantly looking for what's due them and use God as a means to advance in life.
At the same time Leah is uncovering clues to the ailments, Willa, a teenager struggling to fit in, is gang-raped and refuses to come forward and accuse the rapists. They are all important to the town, of course, given they are on the high school football team. Only Dex, a classmate, also struggling to fit in, knows what really happens and tries to make it right.
Steinke illustrates the many ways people use to survive this life. Not everyone does it in the same way. Some run away; some stand and fight. Some struggle between right and wrong; good and evil. Some acquiesce. Steinke holds nothing back.
Step into the town of Friendswood. I promise you a thought-provoking experience you won't soon forget. -- Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Steinke's sense of this small Texas town, with its explosive and interconnected lives and deaths, is absolutely masterful. Elizabeth Gilbert
A big, moving novel of one tight-knit Texas community and the events that alter its residents lives forever.
Friendswood, Texas, is a small Gulf Coast town of church suppers, oil rigs on the horizon, hurricane weather, and high school football games. When tragedy rears its head with an industrial leak that kills and sickens residents, it pulls on the common thread that runs through the community, intensifying everything. From a confused fifteen-year-old girl beset by visions, to a high school football star tormented by his actions, to a mother galvanized by the death of her teen daughter, to a morally bankrupt father trying to survive his mistakes, Rene Steinke explores what happens when families are trapped in the ambiguity of history's missteps when the actions of a few change the lives and well-being of many.
Driving the narrative powerfully forward is the suspenseful question of the fates of four Friendswood families, and Steinke's striking insight and empathy. Inspired in part by the town where she herself grew up, this layered, propulsive, psychologically complex story is poignant proof that extreme public events, as catastrophic as they might seem, must almost always pale in comparison to the intimate personal experiences and motivations of grief, love, lust, ambition, anxiety, and regret.
About the Author
Rene Steinke is the author of the novels The Fires and Holy Skirts, which was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award. She is the Director of the MFA program in creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She lives in Brooklyn."