In 1992, I stumbled across a book that changed my life. It’s imagery was stark and raw, the story brutal. It introduced me to an author with whom I would have a lifelong literary love for: Cormac McCarthy. Since that book — All The Pretty Horses — I have sought out other writers who bring that same sensibility of cataclysm and ruggedness to their stories. Few writers are able to bring such authenticity and bleakness to the page.
I can no longer claim that to be true.
Cry Father, the latest novel from Colorado author Benjamin Whitmer, is authentically stark and generously beautiful, even while depicting characters who live on the dark fringes of existence.
At first look, Cry Father seems to be about these fringe dwellers, but underneath the harsh reality of their lives is a much deeper story: the universal story of fathers and sons. In many online reviews, Whitmer easily picks up the mantle that late author Larry Brown left behind. And while I can definitely see where those comparisons might be true, it’s the McCarthy-esque brutality against a backdrop of stark beauty that keeps you on the page.
From the opening scene, wherein the protagonist, Patterson, finds himself in a rundown mobile home with a meth addict, and where he finds the addict’s girlfriend hogtied and naked in the bathtub, the narrative tension is relentless. Even the more picturesque scenes with Patterson in the sprawling landscape of Colorado, there is an underlying current that resonates throughout.
Whitmer doesn’t pull any punches, and his characters are brutalized — not gratuitously by any means, but by their own flawed choices — leading the reader to an explosive climax not soon to be forgotten.
Cry Father is an amazing read. It’s also gory and violent, like the old West, where outlaws run the world, and upstanding citizens would do best to steer well clear of these characters. No mercy. Ever.