How will we respond to the children? – Scott Archer Jones
We live in a world of diversity, of change, of uncertainty. The new novel by Scott Archer Jones, A Rising Tide of People Swept Away, explores what Dr. Johnson might call the “interstitial vacuities.” A small boy from a troubled family, a family part Hispanic, part Anglo, becomes the “adopted” child of a group of troubled people in the Albuquerque Bosque area. The story of how he is saved while they are lost is the focus of A Rising Tide of People Swept Away.
I think this is a significant book for a couple of reasons. First, it is a novel that addresses what is happening to too many in our country: people who are pawns in the machinations of government working in concert with wealthy forces interested in increasing their wealth do their best to fight back against adds that are so stacked against them they are doomed from the start. Second, and this is the real story and power of Jones’s novel, this is a story of how human love and kindness persist in the face of the forces mentioned in the first reason.
The small boy mentioned above, GMR Whittington, spends the novel trying to escape a dysfunctional home. His father is an alcoholic car thief – his mother a cocaine addicted prostitute – his older brother a budding gang leader/killer. His unlikely – and endearing – saviors include Tenn, a seedy bar’s manager, his bulimic bar maid Regina, an alcoholic pawn shop owner, Richard, a slightly frayed PR man, Harry, and a librarian with frustrated motherhood neuroses, Helen. Together, despite all odds, they manage to rescue GMR and give him a chance at a decent life.
This same group are also core members in the local association that tries to stop the “powers that be” in Albuquerque from building a new highway bridge whose on-ramp will destroy their neighborhood. To be clear: it is a neighborhood of what are too easily called life’s losers. Besides the bar and pawn shop mentioned above, the poor neighborhood includes a taxidermy business, an evangelical church catering to its poor congregation, and a hair dresser’s shop. The characters who run these businesses play parts in the story, too, and the parallel plots of saving the life of one child and saving a neighborhood mirror each other in a significant way: what Jones does a wonderful job of making clear is that while it is possible to save the future, the present (and past) may have to pay heavy prices for that salvation.
We need more books that understand the struggle between past, present, and future this well.