“White Squirrels and Other Monsters” by Gerry Harlan Brown. WordCrafts Press. 2020. 242 pages, $16.99 (paperback).
Kin Patterson is a man who needs to work on his priorities. Facing bankruptcy and divorce, he is excited when he gets a call saying his 90-year-old great-uncle is working on his will and is going to give him the Patterson estate, as he is the last one remaining. Before he does so, however, his great-uncle wants to meet him on the estate. Kin imagines a fat inheritance by selling off the property and immediately travels to the old family home in Bowling Green.
However, he discovers his uncle Woody is not near death, nor does he seem feeble or senile. He is sharp as a tack, and a very good shot – Woody shoots him with a BB gun at first sight. Having been through hell and back, dealt with his own demons and seen his own fair amount of strife, Woody cuts Kin no slack. And neither does Moby, the white squirrel that has declared war on both of them.
This book takes place over the span of about two days. Instead of a romance, this is a book about redemption, finding your way back and having an epiphany or two about who you want to be. Kin, 27, has certainly lost his way, his wife and soon his company because of constant drinking. He spends most afternoons and evenings getting plastered, and when he refused to change his ways and face the fact that he was an alcoholic, his wife left him. Facing bankruptcy, he sees this call and offer from his great-uncle as the holy grail.
One of my favorite things about reading books set somewhere local is seeing our city through the author’s eyes. This book focuses on the Lost River Cave area, and I really enjoyed exploring it a bit more. There is also a visit to a local cemetery. A comment about there being plenty of places to eat had me giggling, as well as the obsession with sweet tea. It certainly shows our area in a good light, and the scenic descriptions are well done.
There is also a good deal in the book that has to do with manners. Being 90, how you act and react to others is incredibly important to uncle Woody. Whether you wave to someone you don’t even know, if they wave at you, is a very important thing in the South. There were a few other odd quirks that had me giggling and waiting for the next thing to be missed by Kin, who was raised in Louisville (and as some say, certainly isn’t Southern – a joke made in the book).
Perhaps the best part of the book was the banter between Woody and Kin.
They about drove each other to distraction and could hardly have a conversation without getting mad at one or the other. That said, you can see the connection made between them, and the joy that Woody has in sharing his family history with Kin. It is Woody who begins to help Kin see that he can turn things around. Indeed, he shows him that he really has a reason to in the first place.
The battle with the white squirrel throughout the book added just an extra layer of comedy that helped lighten the moments that needed it. It also brings another piece of Bowling Green to the setting, as we have quite a few white squirrels running around. As to the other monsters, well I believe they are slain in the end, or at least dealt with.
There were a few times that the descriptions or moments about Kin’s wife were hard to follow, whether in sleep or waking dreams. At other times, the shift in emotions was sudden and seemed to startle you out of the story just a bit. Finally, there is a scene that takes place on the side of the road between Woody and Kin, and with two random passers-by and some firefighters that just seemed out of proportion with the rest of the story and out of place. Not to mention, one of the men (Bear) constantly spoke with large words and 1,000 times more eloquently than anyone else in the story. Either it alluded to something I completely missed, or it just did not fit in.
I was rather sad about the ending of the book. I truly hoped for a different outcome or even more time with Woody. There was also a confusing add-in concerning some burning papers. However, all in all, it was a good book that focused on family ties and the call to be a better human. I love books that focus on nonromantic relationships, and I am glad that they are starting to gain more popularity.
Brown is from Smiths Grove and has spent most of his life in and around Bowling Green. He spent 27 years in fire service and also had many different jobs throughout his life. He said the fire service influenced his writing more than anything else, because in that position you see people at their bravest, and also at their worst.
– Reviewed by Fallon Willoughby, first-year experience instructor, Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College.