Thursday, February 26, 2015

Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie's Story

Title:  Then Like the Blind Man:  Orbie's Story
Author:  Freddie Owens
Publication Information:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2012. 330 pages.
ISBN:  1475084498 / 978-1475084498

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through Edelweiss free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "You could say what happened to me happened to all of us."

Favorite Quote:  "Folks is funny down here, Orbie. They say they love the Lord, but then again they won't abide by His people."

Orbie is a little boy. His father is dead. A new man, Victor, is in his mother's life. They have left Detroit and on their way to Florida. Along the way, they stop at Orbie's grandparents' home in Kentucky. Orbie's mother and Victor say goodbye and take off with Orbie's sister, leaving him with his grandparents. Abandoned or temporarily settled in with relatives? As a young child, what would you think?

Just in that little description, this little boy has a lot to deal with. Loss of his father. A mother who seems more concerned with her own affairs than the well being of her children. Loss of his home. Loss of a familiar environment, going from a large city to a small, backwater spot in the country. This sets up the character of a young boy who you want to reach out and protect. His tough guy exterior certainly contributes to that feeling because behind that exterior, he is only nine years old.

Now add to the story the element that Victor is, at best, an unsavory character. The story gradually reveals his reality - his treatment of Orbie and his sister, his treatment of Orbie's mother, his shady business dealings, his prejudices, and his role in Orbie's past. This sets up a conflict for the young protagonist.

Now add to the story the facet that the world of the South in the 1950s is completely new to Orbie. The world view of some of the people he meets is new to him, and he finds himself caught up in the racial prejudices and conflicts that exist. Very clear divides exist, defined by the color of a person's skin. His grandparents do not hold to such prejudice, but the power of the town rests with those who do. Orbie's feelings are conflicted because he believes a black person to be responsible for his father's death and as such wants to believe the prejudices. Yet, his grandfather and other people he meets shows him a different truth. This sets up an even bigger conflict for the story.

The book sets up for a strong, emotional coming of age story with possibly a powerful statement about equality. However, the book gets tripped up in its own telling. In an effort to be authentic, the book loses the story. Two factors contribute to this.

First, the language, especially the abundant dialogue, attempts to create the Southern environment of this book. Unfortunately, the amount of the story told through dialogue and the over the top incorporation of "Southern" as a language becomes an impediment to the story itself. The vocabulary, the grammatical shift, the phonetic spelling, and the colloquial expressions are all Southern in nature, but all together and throughout the book make it hard reading. Possibly, this feature would work better as an audiobook; it is easier to hear an accent than to read one for 300 pages.

Second, I could not get past the words used to refer to people of color. The n*** word comes up a lot. Again, the words are appropriate to the time period of the book, but they are used so abundantly that they get in the way of the story. The same emotion and thoughts could perhaps be expressed without the continual repetition of the disparaging terms themselves.

So, while Orbie is a sympathetic main character, unfortunately the book is is not for me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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