(Book Reading at Annie Bloom’s Books - January 10, 2019)
Malheur August, a new novel
by Nancy Judd Minor
Malheur August opens with a map of Malheur County, OR and its Malheur River. "Malheur" means "bad time," we're told--and Nancy Minor plays with that notion skillfully. Set in 1971 with substantial flashback to the 1940s, her novel becomes an utterly convincing portrait of life in rural Oregon a generation or two ago. (Think of Grant Wood joking around with Dorothea Lange.)
Minor's protagonist, Jean Algood, spends her last home-from-college summer questioning her parents' friends and neighbors about what Clete and Oleta had been like at her age, and about what had gone wrong--what had embittered her father and hollowed out her mother in the years before she was born. The questioning is triggered by a photograph Jean and her cousin find when they venture into the ramshackle hut of the town's recently deceased "old hermit." Who was the hermit? Why did he keep a Kodak image of young Clete Algood in an empty coffee can in his shack? Who was the beautiful girl standing next to Clete in the photo, the one with the too-familiar eyes? The "mannish" woman in the photo, they remember from another Kodak back home: it's Clete's twin sister, Cloris, who hasn't been seen in Malheur County since 1946.
The plot thickens as they try to identify the hermit. Sweetens as their mother's old friend recounts parts of Oleta's story. Sours when Clete's tractor overturns. Thickens again when Aunt Opal--Clete's uber-bossy Mormon sister--manages to contact Cloris. And then quietly explodes.
AWARDS & ACCOLADES
Short-listed for the 2017 Del Sol Best First Novel Prize
Finalist, Black Lawrence Press Big Moose Prize
Semi-finalist for the Faulkner Society Award.
Malheur August was released
october 15, 2018.
At some point, most adults begin to wonder about the parents who raised them. How did they come to marry or not-marry one another? How did they handle their own parents' expectations? How did they deal with heartbreak? speak of subjects they'd been told were unspeakable? gain or fail to gain wisdom?
Nancy Judd Minor's Malheur August pulls readers into the world of one family in whom such questions burn. It opens in 1971 in Vale, a small Oregon community where Clete and Oleta Algood have raised bitterness to such an art form that their adult children rarely visit. It follows their daughters, Jean and Mae, as they try to understand what happened to their parents, why they stopped being happy, why they stay together. Answers come slowly, in pieces, from the friends and neighbors Oleta and Clete grew up with back in the 1930s and '40s. And the answers are utterly convincing. Read this book and you will grow in wisdom.
Raves and Reviews
"Nancy Judd Minor's beautifully written Malheur August tells the story of a complex family and a small rural community. Descriptive, lyrical, humorous, and suspenseful, Minor immerses us in her characters' dialect, place and culture. In a novel about departure and returning and the nature of time, she lets a younger generation unravel the mysteries of elders' lives. What results is a vivid, vibrant and riveting narrative, all ultimately flowing, like the [Malheur] river, towards a surprising and satisfying destination.
- Julie Bolt, Associate Professor, City University of New York
"Malheur August offers a nostalgic and heart-wrenching glimpse into the role place has in our lives and fresh perspective on family, loyalty, and the ties that bind. Nancy Judd Minor captures an Eastern Oregon farming community of the 1970s and 1940s with prose whose sheer beauty is at once crisp, stark and evocative, like the Oregon high desert itself. This is a rich book."
- Elissa Rust, author of the The Prisoner Pear
About the Author
Nancy Judd Minor is a lifelong Oregonian, raised in Vale near the Malheur River--a river whose name means "Misfortune." She knows the landscape, the alkaline fields and the fishing spots, the places where teens go to break the rules, the dangerous parts of the river. And she knows the people - the lonely child, the widow, the hired hand, the woman who loves women, the truly gentle man.
For an unusually honest profile of the author, please click on this link and read the short, grand-prize-winning essay which our author's teenaged granddaughter wrote about her.