Stephen H. Foreman
Simon and Schuster, 2009, $14
The Lock Artist: A Thriller
St. Martin's Press, 2010, $24.99
Adolescent boys are infamously noncommunicative, but most are technically capable of speaking when absolutely necessary. Maybe it’s just that the barrage of emotions and experiences involved in the journey from boy to man doesn’t translate easily. Anyone who has ever been a teenage male or known one well can testify that it’s not as if nobody’s home—there’s a simmering mass of often achingly beautiful content not far from the surface.
Blessed be the translators. Two top-notch local authors have just published works that reach deep into the heart of the boy-man and come out with literary feasts, page-turning entertainments that are rich in understanding.
Stephen H. Foreman’s Gideon has been mute from birth. His parents’ marriage does not survive his disability, but one parent emerges as heroic: his father Jubal, who finds inspiration and purpose in loving his baby boy. When Jubal decides to take 16-year-old Gideon on a fortune-seeking road trip to Utah, sheer chance brings a woman into the mix: Abilene Breedlove, foxy and fatally flawed. “She knew she was plenty quick enough to count change and to laugh at a good joke when she heard one, but even back in high school her dreams weren’t large ones.”
Some of their adventures make hilarious reading. As in his debut novel, Toehold, Foreman’s eye and ear for human quirks are spot-on. But although Abilene harbors no bad intentions toward her traveling partners, even trying in her way to take care of them, the undercurrents of greed and lust pull everyone down, and the lighthearted romp turns into nail-biting suspense. The absence of bad intentions—well, everyone knows how the road to hell is paved.
Steve Hamilton’s titular lock artist was struck mute by trauma, the surviving victim of a terrible crime. As the statistics tell us, crime begets crime—Michael is telling us his story from behind bars. As we get to know him and live within his fiercely courageous reality, we begin to see how meaningless the term “crime” can be, and how arbitrary and capricious the societal response to it is. Michael’s journey from “Miracle Boy” survivor to convict with a number for a name is simultaneously bizarre and nearly inevitable. We berate “criminals” for poor choices, yet sometimes life offers no good ones, and there is a vast spectrum of morally contemptible behavior that skirts official consequences while causing havoc.
Hamilton has a gift for weaving a complicated web of intrigue and irony and a knack for hoisting the system on its own petard. “If you think it’s just a big set of rules, you’re dead wrong,” Michael observes of the legal system. “It’s really a bunch of people sitting around and talking to each other, deciding what they want to do with you. When they make their decision, then they pull out whatever rule they need to make it happen.”
Throughout both stories, the condition of muteness emerges almost as a character in its own right. If Gideon could speak, or if Michael could speak, the lives of everyone around them would be irretrievably altered, the course of events entirely different. It’s a lens that brings issues of communication and the heart into sharp detail.
What amazes is that such intense meditations—on fathers and sons, right and wrong, life and death—can also be such great fun.