Seattle author Megan Kruse’s debut novel “Call Me Home” traces the history of a family trying to escape and transcend its violent past. Kruse reads March 5 at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co., and March 7 at the Barnes & Noble in Pacific Place.
What is home, and where is your life supposed to be, if where you are is a place of pain and fear? These are questions that arise in “Call Me Home” (Hawthorne Books, 280 pp., $18.95), Seattle author Megan Kruse’s impressively forceful debut novel.
The novel is set mostly in 2010, the year that Amy, a battered wife in Tulalip, Snohomish County, and her two teenage children finally escape from her husband and their father, Gary, after more than a decade of physical abuse.
The novel alternates between chapters focused on Amy, 18-year-old Jackson, and 13-year-old Lydia. Amy’s chapters also swing back and forth between 2010 and 1990, when she was 18 and left her parents’ home in Texas with Gary.
The author of “Call Me Home” will appear at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 5, at Elliott Bay Cook Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; free (206-624-6600; elliottbaybook.com). She also will appear at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at Barnes & Noble in Pacific Place, 600 Pine St., Seattle; free (206-264-0156; store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/store/2957).
The pendulum of storytelling from the present to the past creates a retrospective and also prospective view: We see the isolated, escaping, guilt-ridden Amy, endlessly chivying the details of when things went wrong; and then we see the young and hopeful Amy in her new marriage, with her life before her. The chasm between her older and younger selves is heart-wrenching, though she never loses her belief that a hopeful life beckons them all.
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Like the younger Amy, Jackson has a hopeful sense of his own new life unfolding after he leaves his father and drops out of school; he is a young gay man hoping for it to get better. But this spark is dimmed in the months he fends for himself on the streets of Portland, taking money from strangers for sex.
His dire circumstances cloak the version of himself that might one day love and be loved openly, and he feels this most wretchedly. Kruse gets at his inability to be himself, and his survival-based need to be what is wanted, with a breezy description that says it all: With one wealthy regular, who pretends that he is not paying Jackson for sex, Jackson uses “his earnest voice.” Later, Jackson works in rural Idaho and gets involved with his married boss, whose own closeted life is like a ticking bomb.
Lydia’s first-person voice casually reveals how she has been watching for most of her life, listening to how her parents drive into the driveway, waiting for the violence. It is no small feat for Kruse to handle memory and reflection in each of her characters’ lives in different ways.
Every writer needs a good reader before publishing, and one wishes that Kruse had been better supported by her editor; two scenes contain jarring remnants of draft writing.
But Kruse’s prose is vivid, precise and promising. The scenes of Gary’s violence unfold in the characters’ memories as inevitable because they were expected, and she handles this material economically.
In one devastating scene, Amy seems to purposefully set Gary off as if to trigger a controlled avalanche; her only power is to bring it on and take it so that she can create calm for her kids’ return from a school trip.
The violence in the subtly efficient language with which Kruse captures the effects of physical abuse is well-tempered by the humor and humanity in minor characters outside this family circle, whose dialogue is pitch-perfect.