Author: Freddie Owens
Type of book: Southern Gothic novel, thunderstom, tornadoes, Pentecostal religion vs Baptists and Atheism, North and South, racism, 1955-1959, mystery, friendship, protection, Kentucky
Year it was published: 2012
A storm is brewing in the all-but-forgotten backcountry of Kentucky. And, for Orbie Ray, the swirling heavens may just have the power to tear open his family’s darkest secrets. Then Like The Blind Man: Orbie’s Story is the enthralling debut novel by Freddie Owens, which tells the story of a feisty wunderkind in the segregated South of the 1950s, and the forces he must overcome to restore order in his world. Evocative of a time and place long past, this absorbing work of magical realism offered with a Southern twist will engage readers who relish the Southern literary canon, or any tale well told.
Nine-year-old Orbie has his cross to bear. After the death of his father, his mother Ruby has off and married his father’s coworker and friend Victor, a slick-talking man with a snake tattoo. Now, Orbie, his sister Missy, and his mother haven’t had a peaceful moment with the heavy-drinking new man of the house. Orbie hates his stepfather more than he can stand; a fact that lands him at his grandparents’ place in Harlan’s Crossroads, Kentucky.
Orbie grudgingly adjusts to life with his doting Granny and carping Granpaw, who are a bit too keen on their black neighbors for Orbie’s taste, not to mention their Pentecostal congregation of snake handlers. And, when he meets the black Choctaw preacher, Moses Mashbone, he learns of powers that might uncover the true cause of his father's death. As a storm of unusual magnitude descends, Orbie happens upon the solution to a paradox at once magical and ordinary. Question is, will it be enough?
Equal parts Hamlet and Huckleberry Finn, it’s a tale that’s rich in meaning, socially relevant, and rollicking with boyhood adventure. The novel mines crucial contemporary issues, as well as the universality of the human experience while also casting a beguiling light on boyhood dreams and fears. It’s a well-spun, nuanced work of fiction that is certain to resonate with lovers of literary fiction, particularly in the Southern tradition of storytelling.
The characters were fully fleshed out and it was easy for me to keep track of them, of who's who. Orbie is a nine year old boy whose father has recently passed away and he doesn't trust Victor, his mother's new boyfriend. In beginning of the book he's determined to keep to himself and he also likes to get into mischief. However, throughout the book, he begins to change and opens himself up to numerous possibilities both earthly and spiritual. There are also Orbie's grandparents, his grandmother and grandfather. His grandfather is a joking type, especially at Orbie's expense and he is also capable of fierce loyalty to those close to them. He is also best described as stubborn. Orbie's grandmother is a strong woman who is persistent and defends her family against bullies. She is also open-minded and encourages Orbie to get past his negative experiences. Let's also not forget Victor, Orbie's mother's boyfriend who carries a huge secret and seems to take perverse pleasure in upsetting Orbie's mother. There are a lot of more characters, but I worry that the paragraph will be way too long.
Nothing can be kept hidden forever
The book is written in first person narrative from Orbie's point of view. The speech pattern and style is what I would think of as Southern style where most people are religious. Its also written from a nine-year-old's point of view which means that Orbie is just gaining insight rather than being born with insight. He understands something is going on, but he really can't put his finger on what's going on. There is heavy use of weather and religion as well as hallucinations in the book as well. The book isn't preachy, but religion is contrasted against atheism, and Pentecostal is also contrasted against Baptists, and race also makes an appearance.
A poet and fiction writer, my work has been published in Poet Lore, Crystal Clear and Cloudy, and Flying Colors Anthology. I am a past attendee of Pikes Peak Writer’s Conferences and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and a member of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in
. In addition, I am/was a
licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist, who for many years
counseled perpetrators of domestic violence and sex offenders, and provided
psychotherapy for individuals, groups and families. I hold a master’s degree in
contemplative psychotherapy from Denver,
Colorado in Naropa
University . Boulder, Colorado
I was born in
but soon after my parents moved to Kentucky . Detroit was where I grew up. As a kid I
visited relatives in Detroit ,
once for a six-week period, which included a stay with my grandparents. In the
novel’s acknowledgements I did assert the usual disclaimers having to do with
the fact that Then Like The Blind Man was and is a work of fiction,
i.e., a made up story whose characters and situations are fictional in nature
(and used fictionally) no matter how reminiscent of characters and situations
in real life. That’s a matter for legal departments, however, and has little to
do with subterranean processes giving kaleidoscopic-like rise to hints and
semblances from memory’s storehouse, some of which I selected and disguised for fiction. That is to
say, yes, certain aspects of my history did manifest knowingly at times, at
times spontaneously and distantly, as ghostly north-south structures, as
composite personae, as moles and stains and tears and glistening rain and dark
bottles of beer, rooms of cigarette smoke, hay lofts and pigs. Here’s a quote
from the acknowledgements that may serve to illustrate this point. Kentucky
“Two memories served as starting points for a short story I wrote that eventually became this novel. One was of my
grandmother as she emerged from a shed with a white chicken held upside down in
one of her strong bony hands. I, a boy of nine and a “city slicker” from Kentucky , looked on in
wonderment and horror as she summarily wrung the poor creature’s neck. It ran
about the yard frantically, yes incredibly, as if trying to locate something it
had misplaced as if the known world could be set right again, recreated, if
only that one thing was found. And then of course it died. The second memory
was of lantern light reflected off stones that lay on either side of a path to
a storm cellar me and my grandparents were headed for one stormy night beneath
a tornado’s approaching din. There was wonderment there too, along with a vast
and looming sense of impending doom.” Detroit
I read the usual assigned stuff growing up, short stories by Poe, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Scarlet Letter, The Cherry Orchard, Hedda Gabler, a little of Hemingway, etc. I also read a lot of Super Hero comic books (also Archie and Dennis the Menace) and Mad Magazine was a favorite too. I was also in love with my beautiful third grade teacher and to impress her pretended to read Gulliver’s Travels for which I received many delicious hugs.
It wasn’t until much later that I read Huckleberry Finn. I did read To Kill A Mockingbird too. I read Bastard Out of Carolina and The Secret Life of Bees. I saw the stage play of Hamlet and read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle too. However, thematic similarities to these works occurred to me only after I was already well into the writing of Then Like The Blind Man. Cormac McCarthy, Pete Dexter, Carson McCullers, Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Conner and Joyce Carol Oates, to name but a few, are among my literary heroes and heroines. Tone and style of these writers have influenced me in ways I’d be hard pressed to name, though I think the discerning reader might feel such influences as I make one word follow another and attempt to “stab the heart with...force” (a la Isaac Babel) by placing my periods (hopefully, sometimes desperately) ‘... just at the right place’.
Freddie Owens’ latest book is Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie’s Story.
Visit his website at www.FreddieOwens.com.
Connect & Socialize with Freddie!
If one is to ask me how to classify this book, I'd really have a hard time coming up with a classification. It has a little bit of everything from what seems to be really memorable novels of the childhood: adventure wise as well as mentions of domestic abuse comes from Adventures of Huck Finn by Mark Twain, while the Southern setting with magical realism and the issue of race as well as Orbie's speech pattern in Southern colloquial seems to come from To Kill a Mockingbird. (Time period was separated by twenty years...) In some ways too I felt that I was reading Secret Life of the Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, although this book really admirably stands out on its own. I also would be remiss in not mentioning how cool the cover is. Also as well when it comes to who's racist and who's not, there is a reversal of roles: the parents and Orbie in beginning are pretty negative to African Americans, while Orbie's grandparents are very respectful to them and encourage Orbie to look past the skin color. Despite it being a boy's book, it has really amazing female character in terms of grandmother. While Orbie's mother had that potential too, I somehow doubt that she'll ever realize it.
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(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)