Growing up on his family's orchards in Appleton, Michigan, in the 1950s, Martin Dijksterhuis finds everything he needs in his extended family and in the land itself -- in the reassuring routines of growing and harvesting, spraying and pruning. Although his mother wants him to get out of Appleton, which she finds impossibly provincial, and attend a great university -- the University of Chicago, her alma mater -- he has no desire to leave.
In the autumn of his junior year of high school, however, in the camp of the migrant workers who come north every year to pick the Dijksterhuis peaches and apples, Martin discovers his vocation, the country blues -- unsettling melodies that cry out from a place in the soul he never knew existed. He also falls in love with Corinna Williams, the strong-willed daughter of the black foreman who runs the Dijksterhuis orchards. His blues vocation and his love for Corinna are the two stories of his life. His struggle to combine them into a single story takes him a long way from home and from the life he had always envisioned for himself, and then it brings him back again in a way he could never have imagined.
In this beautifully rendered novel, Robert Hellenga, author of The Sixteen Pleasures and The Fall of a Sparrow, explores the fragility of happiness, the difficulties of following one's calling in life, and the sorrows and satisfactions of being a parent.
A young man growing up in the Midwest during the '50s comes to terms with the problematic legacy of his first love in Hellenga's heartfelt, provocative third novel. Martin Dijksterhuis is the high school student who is forced to grow up in a hurry when his attraction for an African-American girl named Cory Williams leads to the birth of their child. He is willing to marry Cory and settle into a life of working the family's idyllic orchards in tiny Appleton, Mich., but both Cory's and Martin's mothers have other plans. Martin is heartbroken when the girl leaves town. When he learns that his mother paid off the Williams family to keep Cory from distracting him from his college education, he enlists in the navy in a fit of rebellion and then goes to work for the Railroad Post Office after his discharge. He continues to keep track of Cory as he moves toward his true calling as a blues musician, and, while her romantic interest in him has waned, he is able to repair the relationship enough to become a factor in the life of their daughter, Cozy. Hellenga (The Fall of a Sparrow) displays a sure touch as he probes a mid-century interracial relationship, and he effectively steers Martin through his initial romantic fervor and into his desire to establish a relationship with his daughter. This is a quietly graceful novel with a complex story and a multifaceted cast of characters and the icing on the cake is the author's lyrical writing about the blues.