Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Life is good...and then it isn't.

One of our local independent book sellers here in the San Francisco Bay Area has what it calls a First Editions Club. Each month the store selects a new work of fiction by an emerging author thought to show exceptional promise and talent. The idea seems to be that, even if the selected book does not turn out to win an award, some later work by this author will. Authors in this category include Andrew Sean Greer, Kiran Desai and Junot Diaz. Recent selections have included The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and Telex from Cuba. If you join the club you receive a signed first edition of the selected book at the regular book price. As I have for the most part switched to getting all of my blog reading from the local public library and The Paperback Book Swap (see blog of July 15, 2009), I decided to splurge with the purchase of one book a month. Anything to save myself from one more decision! If you live close to the store you have the option to pick the book up at the store; otherwise for a small additional postage fee, the book is mailed to you.

This month’s book is The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha. Ms. Rahka now lives in Silverton, Oregon and has spent most of her career as a broadcast journalist and reporter. The idea for this novel grew out of her assignment in 1996 to cover Oregon’s first death penalty execution in more than 30 years. Rahka has chosen to explore this subject for the most part from the point of view of a murdered victim’s family.

Irene and Nate Stanley live with their two children on a farm in southern Illinois. Abruptly, Nate announces that he has received a career advancement opportunity (he works in law enforcement) too good to pass up…in Oregon. They go; the adjustment is difficult. Just when things seem to be getting better, tragedy strikes the family in the form of a murder. The murderer is a local 19-year-old boy. It takes 19 more years, all of which he spends in prison, before he gives up on his appeals and a date is set for his execution. Each of the family survivors has come to terms – or not – during those years with feelings of hate, revenge, justice and guilt. Is it possible to forgive?

At the same time that we are watching the family prepare for the execution, the author also gives us an inside look at the prison preparations and the struggles of the warden to meet the competing pressures of the media, the prison guards, the public on both sides of the death penalty issue.

When I picked up the book, the salesperson in the store commented that it was “a real page turner.” That it is. An award winner? I’m not so sure. But it raises questions about an important topic which deserves our thoughtful reflection not just for our own benefit but for our larger society.

Check out the First Editions Club.

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