Fourth of July Creek

Smith Henderson April 14, 2014

“Fourth of July Creek” is riveting and haunting, from start to finish. Smith Henderson has captured a sub-culture that rarely has had a light shined upon it, certainly none as skilled. Thank you, Ecco Books and Edelweiss for the opportunity to read and review in advance of publication.
The Northwest is stunning in its beauty and desolation. The early 1980’s are a time of hardship and seminal change. Everyone is facing some form of mortal danger. Most have a very difficult time making the right choices.

I am generally skilled at keeping my distance when reading fiction: it’s a story, not my life. I was unable to do so this time. I was viscerally affected by the characters and their dilemmas. I couldn’t help but understand why people did what they did, even when doing so put them in peril. I was simultaneously frightened and anxious to see what was next to come.

One reason that the work succeeds as well as it does is Henderson’s mastery of language. In addition to the “have to look-up meaning” of words, he is full of crackling, spot-on modifiers in the most unexpected places. The prose is often full of tap-tap-tap sentence fragments with “stop and make you think” metaphors. Question marks are in short supply. As soon as you settle into that style, you get treated to page-long run-on sentences that you need to parse, re-read and digest. The reader is never comfortable, always on edge, often taken totally by surprise.

Some may try to pigeon-hole “Fourth of July Creek” as a saga about survivalists in the late 20th Century. That would be a big mistake. Henderson has written a far more universal novel. At some level, we are all survivalists, trying to make our way in the big, bad world. Some may do a better job of hiding it than others, but we are all continuously searching for meaning, never as sure as we seem that we have the answers. This is a wonderfully thought-provoking work.