Summer of 1988. Leavenworth, Kansas: a town with four major prisons, gripped by the recent escape of a convict. Yet for two young brothers, all that matters is the pool in their apartment complex. They spend their blissful days practicing dives while their divorcée mother works her day shift at the golf course and their policeman father patrols the streets. But when a mysterious stranger appears poolside and creates a rift between the brothers, the younger one wonders just what these visits to the pool might ultimately cost.
Based on Cote Smith's well-received short story of the same name, Hurt People will hold you in its grip to the very last page. Eerily atmospheric, lean, and forceful, this is a debut from a slyly talented new writer.
In Smith's tense, haunting debut novel, expanded from his noted short story in One Story, the year is 1988 in Leavenworth, Kan., a nexus of four prisons, where we meet two brothers, nine and 11, whose parents have recently split. The boys move with their mother into an apartment complex, where they become obsessed with its swimming pool. Their father is a police officer who is busy trying to track down a killer who has just escaped from Leavenworth Prison, which sets off a panic in the community. Left to their own devices at the pool, the boys meet Chris, a charismatic stranger, and fall under his spell. Their harried mother is so distracted by money problems and her sleazy boy friend, Rick, who manages the golf course where she works, that she is unaware of her sons' secret friend and his growing influence over them, especially the older one. Once Chris's true nature is revealed, readers will be reminded of The Night of the Hunter for its depiction of two youthful innocents forced to confront implacable evil. Smith has his story narrated by the younger brother, who at times seems to have a too-mature grasp of all the bad adult behavior surrounding him. Although the premise is a little convenient and the narrative sometimes feels padded, the author compensates with razor-sharp characterizations, a richly evoked period setting, and the sense of a community forever living in the shadow of fear.