Monday, June 4, 2012

Forced, Liked It: "Wingshooters" by Nina Revoyr

Forced, Liked It: Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr, 2011, 9781936070862.

Committee book.  I did not look forward to this one and ended up liking it quite a bit.  Plot spoilers await.

Narrator tells tale of her abandonment by her parents and being left with her grandparents in Central Wisconsin in 1974.  Michelle, called Mike by her grandfather Charlie, is half Japanese-half anglo.  She grew up in Tokyo learning English and Japanese.  Loved by her Japanese grandparents and living with her Japanese mom and Wisconsin dad.  Japanese mom skips out on the family.  Dad takes her back to Wisconsin.  Dad and Mike stay with grandparents for a time and then dad leaves to find the mom.

Deerhorn, WI is a small and racist town.  Mike's mother was never welcome there (parents met at UW) and Mike is either ignored or bullied by everyone but her grandparents.  But, even her grandparents are bigots.  That dichotomy between Charlie's bigotry and his deep, adoring and affectionate love for Mike is central to the story.

Mike's only refuge is at home or out on her bike or in the woods with her dog, Brett.  Mike is in third grade when the local medical clinic starts to expand.  Part of the expansion is the hiring of a black nurse.  The black nurse's husband is a teacher.  The town is shocked and upset that the Garrett's are moving to town and will be working with white kids.  Mr. Garrett is hired to fill in full-time during a teacher's maternity leave. Shit hits the fan.

Charlie is a strong personality.  He is well liked, handsome, personable, has many friends.  Charlie is not happy niggers are in town.  Charlie is not blind to his beloved granddaughter being called chink, gook, slant-eye.  Charlie is not blind to Mike having rocks thrown at her and being pushed, shoved and punched. Charlie is oblivious (at least outwardly) to the way his overt racism is not much different than the abuse put on Mike.

Mike sees all of these.  Mike likes the Garretts because they are nice people but also because they are going through what she is going through.  They chose to move there and are staying through the bullshit.

Things happen.  Things progress.  Brett the Dog is a perfect dog.  Brett the Dog is friendly but protective.  Charlie is loving.  Grandmother is subservient and quiet.  Mr. Garrett sees signs of phsysical abuse on a student and reports it.  Dad of student already hates black people and hates Garretts even more.  Dad of Student is best pal of Charlie.  Student ends up in clinic with a broken arm.  Mrs. Garrett calls the cops after seeing the obvious signs of beatings.  Dad of Student arrested by County cops - another pal of his is city's Police Captain.  Dad of Student goes off deep-end and kidnaps Mrs. Garrett.

Charlie and his brother bring Mike along with them when they help search for Dad of Student and Mrs. Garrett.  Mike and Brett stumble on Dad of Student in the woods.  Dad of Student kills Brett.  Charlie kills Dad of Student when Mike threatened.  Charlie dies a few months later of massive heart attack.  Mrs. Charlie unable to care for Mike.  Mike goes to orphanage home.  Mike does not speak at all for a year or so.  Mike moves out to L.A. once she is 18.

1.  I used the word dichotomy.
2.  A very sad story but does not read as such.  Narrated by present-day Mike but told from her 9-year-old viewpoint.  Mike is happy at home.  Mike is happy with Brett.   Mike has a crappy time at school.  But, even with all this the story is not a huge downer because Mike is a, somewhat, buoyant 9-year-old.
3.  Adult Mike is not a happy adult.  Mike writes about her internal anger when referencing her continuing love for the outdoors and the use of exercise to release that anger.  She stayed in WI until leaving the group home and has no family left.  Her father is alive but only called about 15 years after he left.  Mike hung-up on the dickhead when he insulted dead Charlie.  Mike seems to have trouble with romantic relationships.
4.  Intricacies of love and family.  Charlie deeply loved Mike and Mike still loves him but know the way he acted was wrong, wrong, wrong. Another reason to be grateful that my own family is not a bunch of jerks.
5.  Quote about about abused Student: Kevin Watson.  I realized that Kevin's weakness didn't stir compassion, but contempt - from his father, from other kids, even from me.
6.  Mike will not go back to visit Deerhorn.  There is nothing there for her.  I pondered how Mike would be received nowadays.  How much would the city have changed?  Would her former tormentors welcome her?  Would they remember her?  Would she tell them to eat shit?
7.  Brett is a great dog. Incredibly cheerful and friendly.  Also protective.  He must die in the end.
8.  Published by Akashic and it's not a [place name] Noir book.
9.  One of those books where the author and main characters share many traits and you wonder about how autobiographical the tale might be.

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