‘Fourth of July Creek’ by Smith Henderson (2014) – 467 pages Grade: B
Here is a compelling story about a white America which does not get the attention it deserves. Here are drugged out parents with a meth lab in their house who neglect their children. Here are paranoid lunatic survivalists living out in the wilderness who let their kids run wild and feral. Here are broken homes where the estranged wife’s new boyfriend has his eyes and hands on her teenage daughter. This is the United States.
The main character in ‘Fourth of July Creek’ is Pete Snow, a social worker with the Department of Family Services in backwoods Montana in the 1980s. It is his job to rescue children from irreparably broken families. These are the victims of abuse, neglect, and assault. At the same time the social worker’s own family has fallen apart. His estranged wife has left for Texas and has a new boyfriend, and then his fourteen year old daughter runs away with a young guy who pimps her.
“I am saying what you are not allowed to say: we did not love our daughter enough. God, I didn’t protect her, I didn’t protect her from us. I go into homes all the time, and I save children. It’s what I do for a living, you see? And I didn’t save my own daughter.”
“Fourth of July Creek” is an overwhelmingly dark disturbing novel that I read at breakneck speed. If we could all see the severe family problems that a social worker sees, we would all have a different take on life in these United States.
“Your caseload is brutal, and will get worse as the holidays steadily advance on the poor, deranged, and demented. Kids waiting with cops in the living room or the front seat of the squad car to stay out of the cold until you arrive. You run the children down to the crisis center in Kalispell. There aren’t many beds.”
I like the idea of social worker as hero. We don’t hear of them often enough, these people who must deal with the worst problems of modern family society and get little credit for doing so.
There is one strain in this novel that presented some difficulty for me. It possibly couldn’t be helped while showing the underside of family life today. Our social worker stacks the cards against his female acquaintances almost to the point that he could be accused of misogyny. This may be the natural result of his alcoholism. Two of the main females including his wife from whom he is separated are useless sluts haplessly dating loser men, and the third main female is engaging in part-time prostitution. The women here are always distracting the men from their hard-won purity which is also kind of a joke.
‘Fourth of July Creek’ is a novel that is difficult for me to say how I would rate it finally. I liked that it focused on social work and that it tried to focus honestly on the real family problems such as domestic neglect and abuse and assault and misuse of drugs and alcohol that are out there throughout white America. There is no sense in sweeping those problems under a rug. Certainly both sexes play a role in these difficult family problems, but still one must try to be fair to both sexes.
You will need to make your own final evaluation of ‘Fourth of July Creek’.