Little Hometown, America: A Novel
Paperback (also available as an e-book), 978-1-6569-0887-2, 339 pgs., $12.99
January 1, 2020
Cody grew up in Brownwood, Texas, during the 1980s and ʼ90s. Even though he was born with a clubfoot and used crutches for much of his early life, his childhood appeared to feature the Norman Rockwell version of an American idyll. Cody whiled away the days with school, baseball, church choir, facing down the high dive at the community swimming pool, barbecue at Underwood’s.
However, the separation and divorce of their parents exposes the rot beneath the surface and creates a schism with profound, lifelong effects for Cody and his siblings.
Little Hometown, America is the sixth book from CG Fewston. Inspired by real events in the author’s life, this novel is a family saga, the coming-of-age story of a small-town-America boy learning the hard lessons of life—the truths and the myths and, most difficult, that the circumstances and events that shape our lives, which are experienced by us individually as anomalous dramas, are mostly unexceptional. But in the learning, we come to understand that we are not alone precisely because we are not extraordinary.
The story begins with an arresting post-Sunday-lunch scene. The family has finished lunch at a restaurant (which they cannot afford) and stopped by a city park before going home. Gwendolen, Cody’s mother, walks off alone, slips off her wedding ring, and throws it into the river. “God, Gwendolen,” Cody’s father, Henry, says to his wife; this is the refrain of Cody’s childhood. So many complicated family dynamics are conveyed in those two words. The family’s struggles with “poverty and shame” and their after-effects speak to a story steeped in issues of social class and mobility, a national struggle that is ever timely.
The device used to tell the story of Little Hometown, America is a middle-aged Cody discussing a new book with his editor as he gazes across the New York City skyline on a chilly, stormy day. He is now forty-something and a published author, living in Hong Kong with a wife and baby son. Cody has transformed his life and exponentially improved upon any future most people in a provincial town and culture (“that black hole we teens had nicknamed ‘Deadwood’”) can expect, yet he is enmeshed in the existential angst of a mid-life crisis. He used to believe that his writing would “save” himself and his sister Cassandra, but now he’s not so sure.
The American novelist CG Fewston tells a satisfying tale, bolstered by psychology and far-ranging philosophy, calling upon Joseph Campbell, J. D. Salinger, the King James Bible, and Othello. In this way, the author lends intellectual heft to a family story, exploring the “purity” of art, the “corrupting” influences of publishing, the solitary artist, and the messy interconnectedness of human relationships.
Readers of Little Hometown, America can be comforted when they find they have much in common with Cody and his family and the hard lesson that the good ol’ days “hadn’t been all that good and [he’d] been far too young to know better.” Therein lies hope in commonality.
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