Book Talk: FRACTURES, by Lamar Herrin

FRACTURES by Lamar Herrin via indiebounddotorg

Thomas Dunne Books (November 2013), hardcover (ISBN 1250032768 / 9781250032768)
Fiction, 320 pages

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (November 26, 2013). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.

The politics and economics of alternative energy are filtered through one family’s experience in Lamar Herrin’s Fractures. In one small town above the Marcellus Shale, retired architect Frank Joyner may be the last holdout against the oil-and-gas companies looking to set up their derricks and release the natural gas it contains from its deep underground pockets. Controversy over the potential environmental impact of hydrofracking and the disruptiveness of drilling operations haven’t deterred many of Frank’s neighbors from leasing their land to a developer, and his public statements of ambivalence haven’t endeared him to some of his community.

Although the decision to lease the Joyners’ hundred acres to a gas company ultimately rests with Frank, he’s getting competing messages and agendas from members of his family, and whatever choice he makes is likely to alienate someone. The Joyners have some experience with that, however, which become apparent as Herrin explores their complicated relationships with each other. There’s clearly love and good intentions between them, but the hurts and hostilities simmering underneath grow just as clear as the novel moves toward its stunning, tragic climax.

As the narrative perspective shifts between several characters, including Frank, his children Jen and Mickey, and gas-company landman Kenny Brewster, each of them develops into someone complex and convincing. Herrin is drawing a pretty obvious metaphor between family dynamics and fracking in Fractures, but it’s effective, and it’s rendered with such empathy and emotional honesty that readers may be reluctant to choose sides.

Book description, from the publisher’s website:
The Joyner family sits atop prime Marcellus Shale. When landmen for the natural gas companies begin to lease property all around the family’s hundred acres, the Joyners start to take notice. Undecided on whether or not to lease the family land, Frank Joyner must weigh his heirs’ competing motivations. All of this culminates as a looming history of family tragedy resurfaces.

A sprawling family novel, Fractures follows each Joyner as the controversial hydrofracking issue slowly exacerbates underlying passions and demons. With echoes of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, Fractures takes its reader deep into the beating heart and hearth of a family divided.

Opening lines:

“On an April day in 1970, when most of his fellow architecture students were taking their spring break, Frank Joyner drew a Gillette razor blade across his left wrist with one express purpose in mind: he wanted to see if, when the blood appeared, he was willing to let it flow, or if, in fact, he wanted to live. On hand he had a stack of gauze pads, an Ace bandage, and a leather belt he’d tested on his forearm and then punched a new hole in that could serve as a tourniquet. In an anatomy book he’d checked out of the library, he’d read that the veins running down his wrist would yield, if cut, a dark blood, which would only ooze out, and that gauze pressed down beneath an Ace bandage would be sufficient to stop it. Flanking the veins and deeper set were the radial and ulnar arteries, and these would yield a bright red blood in a pulsating flow, which would take a tourniquet, in addition to the gauze and bandage, to stop. The arteries brought blood from the heart, oxygenated to that brighter red as it passed through the lungs; after its long, wearying trip through the body, the veins brought the blood back.

He’d intended to cut to the deeper and thicker-walled arteries, so that he would know, know for sure, but had in fact cut only to the depth of the veins, which had yielded a slow, blanketing flow more plum-colored than red, and which he’d contemplated for a while—impossible to say how long—before sighing deeply and applying the gauze and Ace bandage. He was twenty years old. Of course, he accused himself of cowardice in not cutting deeply enough to reach the arteries, but he also commended himself for not wasting time. He didn’t need the brighter, more youthful blood to tell him what the darker, more traveled blood had already made clear. He wanted to live.”

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