Aug 26 2008
Dear Ms. Kring,
Jane often sends me packages of arcs and free books we receive at Dear Author. I think sometimes it’s just to get them out of her house as I’m sure she’s swimming in them. Many times I’ll read the back blurb and think, “Oh, no thank you Jane.” But every once in a while, Jane will send me a book that I might never have tried on my own but which proves to be one I’m glad I got a chance to read. “Carry Me Home” is such a book.
On the surface, it seems straightforward enough. A young man narrates his life in rural Wisconsin in the years before, during and after WWII. And as such, it’s a book that romance readers might not be interested in, though there are secondary romances for two of the characters. It wasn’t until I began reading that I discovered that Earl Hedwig Gunderman, Earwig for short, is a “sixteen -year-old, dumb-as-a-stump brother” who’s going to tell us about his life, his brother, his family and the small town he lives in. Though his eyes, we see how the war is going to change them all.
Though he’s got the body of a growing young man, Earwig will forever be interested in comic books, proud of any new accomplishments he manages to learn and uncertain of why some things are the way they are. I guess the only difference between him and the grown ups is that he doesn’t stop before asking “why.” Sometimes all he gets is his Ma pinching his wrist which is her way of telling him to be quiet but other times, the people around him stop, think about what he asked and try to simplify the world for him in words and thoughts he can understand. And in so doing, they explain their feelings and beliefs to your readers.
Earwig’s Ma takes out her worry and frustration that her oldest boy has been shipped off to war on her husband and Earwig. It’s men who want to fight wars, why do they always want to fight, why do women have to lose their sons and brothers and husbands? After she storms away from the dinner table, she doesn’t hear, as Earwig does, his father softly telling her that they are the men’s sons and brothers as well.
Earwig, despite his mental challenges, is a fine observer. Even though he may not always understand what he sees or hears, we can figure out what lies below the surface from what he tells others. At other times, he hears just enough to frighten him, as young children often are when they don’t know or understand what is going on around them.
I was touched and saddened by the return of Jimmy, Earwig’s brother, and two of his friends. Readers will know these men are never going to be the happy-go-lucky people they were, especially since Jimmy and Floyd were initially shipped out to the Philippines. It will take the folks back home a while to admit the war will always be in those men who survived. And it will take the men a long time to try and work through surviving what they often wished had killed them. Though I was glad to see them begin to live again, at times it does seem like those around them are either extremely gifted in being able to say the right thing or they’re closet psychiatrists.
Earwig’s narrative sucked me into the details of the small town world he lives in. The people, the places, and the events come alive. I know some readers will probably not want to read the amount of curse words that fill the book or would prefer that Earwig not be as amused at fart jokes as he is but I think it makes sense for someone whose intelligence will never progress beyond a second grader’s. And let’s face it, boys that age are enamored with bathroom humor and love to giggle about it. A friend of mine says when he was a child, his older brother used to hold him down and try and fart in his face. Boys….
I like that none of the characters are saints or perfect. They’re human, which makes them far more interesting to me. So yeah, maybe Earwig’s outburst to the town gossip is a bit too conveniently placed to give us a boost just when we need it but – darn it! – I laughed along with his mother and thought, “old biddy deserved that.”
There’s some intense stuff between the covers of this book. Some things made me laugh while other incidents broke my heart. But there’s a timelessness to the problems the characters face that makes the book relevant to what what’s going on today and what, unfortunately, will undoubtedly go on years from now. And look at that. Schlitz beer is back! Earwig might not want any but I hope Jimmy, Floyd and John can still toast Louie. B