Sunday, January 09, 2011

Guest author Ed Lynskey

Please welcome back the fabulous mystery author, Ed Lynskey.  Take it away Ed...

The Far and Away Fathers Haunting Our Fiction

The absence of biological fathers as characters in fiction has intrigued me. Deceased fathers fall in a different category altogether. I’m speaking of the fathers who’ve deserted their families, usually at the early ages of their offspring. The clichéd image of the lazy deadbeat dads springs to mind, but my discussion centers more on the scarred fathers conflicted over what they’ve done by leaving.

They still feel an emotional bond or link with the loved ones they’ve abandoned, but for whatever the reason, they can’t resist the wanderlust itch and vanish from the scene. Since fiction writers are driven to seek out and exploit conflict in their narratives, the case of a far and away father haunts my new Appalachian noir, Lake Charles.

My protagonist Brendan Fishback is a twentysomething who lives in the fictitious small town of Umpire, Tennessee, nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains. The time is the 1970s. He works for a unionized press shop with his boyhood pal Cobb Kuzawa. Cobb is married to Brendan’s twin sister Edna, and Cobb’s father Mr. Kuzawa materializes halfway into the novel. He becomes almost a father figure since Angus Fishback, Brendan’s birth father, skied off when Brendan and Edna were still in diapers.

An introspective soul, Brendan often reflects on why Angus left them. His mother Mama Jo offers little help. She is understandably furious at her ex. She refuses to let his name be uttered under her roof. She has punched out his face in the photos mounted in the family album. In short, she’s pretty much shunted him out of their lives in retaliation for his having done the same thing to them. Nonetheless, Brendan, like many kids in his situation, remains curious. He feels the need to learn personal things.

I needed a place for Angus to go. He wasn’t really a drifter or a ne’er-do-well. He wasn’t headed pell-mell down a blind alley to meet his self-destruction. He wasn’t a bad or evil man. He was just restless. What I recalled from the 1970s was the talk (usually boasts) among my peers of their striking off to do rugged toil on the Alaskan Pipeline. Alaska was the happening spot. So, that’s where Angus ends up in Lake Charles. On occasion, he mails home scenic postcards with laconic messages (“I’m doing okay.” or “Be well.”) scribbled on the back. Brendan looks forward to receiving them.

He has the capacity to reach back into his memory to his babyhood and touch on the memory of his dad’s face. I don’t know anybody who is able to do that although I read or heard the writer Anne Tyler is so gifted. Brendan also has a fertile imagination and experiences vivid dreams. Going cold turkey on the pot he enjoyed smoking so much enlivens his dreams. Before long, he’s conversing with the dead Ashleigh, a young lady friend he’s accused of murdering. By sharp contrast to his father, her affluent father dotes on her, setting her up in a princess world of luxury and excess.

Lake Charles is a potboiler. Events escalate. Violence erupts. Bad things go down. But then our real lives sometimes shift into overdrive, and we’re propelled along by the rip tide. Such is the case for Brendan. Despite the strife towing him into deeper waters, he never lets his interest in tracking down Angus flag or lapse. Brendan dreams of packing his bags and driving up to Valdez where the Alaskan Pipeline offloads its transported crude oil to the tankers. It’s here where Cobb and Brendan will team up with Angus to create and run their own timbering outfit. They’ll raise Cane, prowling the saloons, caroling the drinking songs, and go carousing all night. A high, old time is theirs to be had in Valdez.

Mr. Kuzawa is a decorated Korean War vet, a vigorous warrior given to extreme if not radical actions when they’re called for as when Brendan phones him for help from Lake Charles. It’s a manmade (created by the reviled TVA) body of water. Early on, the reader comes to see how Lake Charles is cursed. The earthen dam is crumbling. A putrid green scum covers the water’s surface. Mr. Kuzawa arrives there, and Brendan picks up a valuable, trusted ally.

Since Brendan is a troubled young man lacking much guidance, I felt as if the story required an older, wiser mentor. Enter Mr. Kuzawa. He’s knocked around serving as a covert operative for Uncle Sam. He possesses the right skills and energy to push things to a resolution. Once Brendan has weathered the storm around Lake Charles, he views Mr. Kuzawa in a different light. At last, Brendan gets a letter (back when people still used that sort of communication) in the mail from Angus. He offers his son an explanation of the facts, and Brendan faces a life-altering choice: to stay at home in Umpire or go north to Valdez.

If I was put in Brendan’s shoes, I don’t which decision I’d make. His quest haunting him for a lifelong to go find his dad is a difficult tug to resist. The emotional ties that tether him to his native mountains seem almost as strong. Either way, the crossroads he’s reached at the end of Lake Charles mark his entry into adulthood.

About the author:
 Ed Lynskey is the author of the P.I. Frank Johnson mystery series (including The Zinc Zoo out in 2011) as well as a small town cozy mystery, Quiet Anchorage, also now out.

Read the first chapter Lake Charles to learn more about the book and author:

Lake Charles is up for pre-order sales at Amazon Books:

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