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Many thanks to author Jerry Brown for gifting me these copies in exchange for this honest review.

Calves in the Mud Room is a study in contrasts; hard working teens and irresponsible adults, the haves and the have-nots, dreams and responsibility. Cows become angels, a boy becomes a man, and all the while, the winter wind howls and snow falls relentlessly.

Wade Summers is trying to borrow his mom’s car and finish his chores so he can get cleaned up for a date with Glory Schoonover. He’s done nothing but dream about her, and when she asks him to the Valentine’s Day dance at their high school, he can’t believe his good fortune. This may be the only chance he gets with Glory, she of the  “juicy fruit lips, dark chocolate eyes, honey streaked corn silk hair with the chamomile-lavender scent“.

As Wade is finishing up the evening feeding he sees a heifer off by herself, not interested in food, restless. His joyous anticpation of the evening quickly turns to despair when he discovers his stepfather’s cows are calving early, in the middle of a ferocious blizzard:

Not tonight, no, not tonight, please.

He finishes feeding and swings the truck back around. The snow etches an opaque curtain and he loses the isolated heifer. 

A black cow pie in the headlights sprouts a pair of legs and tries to rise. Wade hits the brake hard. The engine croaks. 

Snowflakes eat at the newborn. There’s no story of birth in the snow. No fluids, no hoof prints, no imprint. The mother could be twenty feet away but all he sees are shreds of snow. 

 

Wade’s stepfather is mean and useless, Glory’s moneyed family is condescending, and  Wade is a teenager with raging hormones. Nothing but adversity surrounds him, and Brown’s lyrical, flowing prose shows Midwestern hardscrabble life in a terribly beautiful way. Almost every page illustrates the despair of farm life lived just on the brink of bankruptcy, made tolerable by alcohol and dreams of a way out. Brown creates unsympathetic characters with ease, giving the reader authentic dialogue and spot on introspection.  Don’t let the simple plot (boy wants girl, simple things conspire against him) fool you—it’s told in a new light. The undercurrents of the subplots are telling and poignant also, and there are some unforgettable characters I’d like to know more about.

Is Wade forced to do the right thing because of the specter of his grandfather and the desire to rise above the bleakness? Or is Wade a good person deep down, regardless of his environment and dead end life? His character is revealed slowly, carefully, with information right in front of you, and plenty to see in between the lines.

What makes this book sing is the rolling, lyrical prose. Simple things like cows in a field, or detritus in a pickup truck take on a new light as Brown paints a picture on every page. Calves in the Mud Room must be read at least twice; once to see how things happen, and the second time to savor the words slowly, like a gourmet dish with its flavors perfectly blended.

This novella is truly a hidden gem that is a quick and lovely read. I loved it.

The author has generously donated a softcover copy of his book for a giveaway! He also agreed to be interviewed by us. Click here to read the interview. Use the box below to enter the giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Don’t want to wait for the contest to be over? You can get your own copy [easyazon_link asin=”0615967507″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]here.[/easyazon_link]