The Bookworm: A wild child; remembering Dr. King

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“The Wild Inside”

By Jamey Bradbury

c. 2018, Wm. Morrow

$25.99, $31.99 Canada; 291 pages

Mom always said that you were a wild child. Feral, she said. Uncivilized. The kind of kid for whom a layer of dirt was a second skin, the kid who hated anything resembling soap. As in the new novel, “The Wild Inside” by Jamey Bradbury, you reveled in your animal side.

Tracy Sue Petrikoff’s mother always said that Tracy was born hungry.

Seventeen-year-old Tracy often thought of that, of her mother and her accidental death on a ropy Alaska road, two years prior. Tracy thought about it while she ran, and while she was away in the woods, which were like home. She knew the trees there, where to hunt, trap, where to find food and shelter, how to keep warm, how to stay absolutely still so she could almost hear an animal think.

“The Wild Inside” author Jamey Bradbury.

She learned to listen, but she didn’t hear the man who attacked her in the woods.

She’d had her knife along, and she’d defended herself but he tossed her aside and she’d hit her head, blacking out. Later, she’d made her way home, but she knew couldn’t tell her father; he would worry, and insist that she steer clear of her woods.

And that wasn’t going to happen, even when the man staggered out of the trees, holding his belly, covered in blood. Tracy’s dad leaped to help and the man, Tom Hatch, would be okay at a hospital in Fairbanks but Tracy wondered if Hatch might come back to get his revenge. She was not going to steer clear of the woods even then, because two or three days away from her woods made her sick. Physically sick.

“The Wild Inside” by Jamey Bradbury.

And so, she kept her secret about Tom Hatch, just as others kept their silences: her Dad, on the woman he was seeing; her brother, on school bullies; and the teenage boy, Jesse Goodwin, who’d come from the woods looking for a job and a place to stay.

Jesse, as Tracy suspected, wasn’t who or what he said he was.

And Tom Hatch was still alive.

From the get-go, you’ll know that “The Wild Inside” is no ordinary novel.

The first thing you’ll notice is that author Jamey Bradbury’s Tracy speaks in a voice that rarely comes from sharp novels like this one: her grammar is lacking, which instantly lends realism to a story that becomes squirmy, even vile in a tauntingly slow manner. Where that eventually leads makes sense-no-sense, perhaps because you’ll be distracted by a snowy setting that’s beautiful but chilling in more ways than one; still, because of that eerily-calm voice and because of her self-realization, all plotlines lead back to Tracy, who’s down-to-earth and hard to dislike.

As the misty plot starts to roil and you begin to realize what’s really going on, though, don’t be too harsh on yourself if you second-guess that fondness …

This is a book for dog lovers. It’s for Iditarod fans, and for anyone who wants something creepily different in a novel. And if that’s you, then “The Wild Inside” will make you howl.

“The Heavens Might Crack: The Death and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.”

By Jason Sokol

c. 2018, Basic Books 

$32, $42 Canada; 344 pages

One minute. That’s all it can take to change history. Sixty seconds, as long as an average TV commercial or two, a few blinks of your eyes and nothing is ever the same. And things can keep changing, as you’ll see in the new book “The Heavens Might Crack” by Jason Sokol.

The evening of April 4, 1968 was ordinary, just like many others on the road.

“The Heavens Might Crack: The Death and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.” author Jason Sokol

Andrew Young hadn’t kept Martin Luther King Jr. satisfactorily apprised of a legal situation in Memphis, and was on the receiving end of a pillow fight. Later, “Young and [Pastor] James Orange shadowboxed in the parking lot” of Lorraine Hotel and, while preparing for the next event, King wondered if he might want a jacket for the cooling air. And then, a “firecracker” sound, and King was quiet …

By most accounts, King was prepared for his death. He’d discussed it with friends and family, and they knew that loving him would mean losing him; it had been this way for years but, says Sokol, “the early months of 1968 felt different.” White people largely feared and hated King. The FBI told him to “take his own life.” And yet, King hadn’t once backed down in his ideals.

“The Heavens Might Crack: The Death and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.” by Jason Sokol.

Shock rolled through the nation following that spring evening. Some wept, and some questioned the need to go on. Others looted, burned, stood against the police in nearly every major city in the country. Many white Americans rejoiced, while Black militancy increased. Gun control, which the Senate had discussed just hours before King’s death, became a political hot-button.

And in the days that followed his assassination, it was feared that King’s legacy would be forgotten. Instead, it became sullied: says Sokol, “ … the historical King – a courageous dissident who unsettled the powerful – would be replaced by a mythical one.”

Because it has been 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, it can be assumed that many Americans today are too young to remember it. “The Heavens Might Crack” serves as a good fill-in for them (and for the not-then-born), as well as a look back for those who can recall with great detail.

But beware – it’s a painful read, not because of how it’s written but because of what’s told. Author Jason Sokol picks the scab off old wounds that may’ve once seemed healed as he puts current events into reverse-perspective: readers might be surprised to see that some issues have softened with age, while others are as sharp today as they were then - and that includes shocking examples of racism, inequality, and violence. He doesn’t stop there, though: Sokol shows how King’s birthday became a reluctant holiday, and how his legacy leaves us with a “duty” to “make clear the substance of his actual teachings…”   

This is a history book, to be sure, but it also feels quite meditative, making it the perfect read for those who remember and those who can’t. “The Heavens Might Crack” is highly recommended. You’ll be grabbed by it in the first minute. 

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.