Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson is a modern-western fiction novel taking place in Montana. It is a story of an anti-hero, Pete, who is a social worker with a family as fucked-up as his cases. The prose is beautiful and interesting, though the story is dark with lots of characters. I definitely recommend the novel but it slowly grew on me and might not be for everyone.
This is not a page-turner with action around every corner. This is not a coming of age story for anyone involved. No one learns their lesson. There is little self-awareness. There is no deep character growth or change. And you know what, because that’s how life is sometimes. Sometimes, we don’t change after major life experiences.
This is a book about characters, not plot. Despite the characters not learning about themselves, you do learn about them.
Then there is the prose. The writing is gritty and beautiful at the same time, a bit similar to Cormac McCarthy but with a little less flourish. Through the dialogue you can easily see that everyone is on the same page here. The dialect and grammar never felt forced or that it was making fun of anyone.
The protagonist, Pete, isn’t better off than anyone else.Even as a social worker he fully admits that his family is as bad as the ones he works with. He is definitely an anti-hero in the story. I am a sucker for anti-heros. It makes sense too, since this is a modern western.
Since the story does not have a straight-forward plot, and is only about the life of one character, it doesn’t have a straight-forward ending. I don’t mind this as our lives don’t always have a concrete resolution to problems either. But if you are looking for the story to be fully resolved at the end and tied with a bow, you’ll be disappointed. The story is dark from start to finish – no happy endings here.
If you enjoy well-written fiction, dark stories, or westerns, I definitely recommend this one. This is Henderson’s debut novel and it makes me look forward to see what he can write out next. I give this one 4 out of 5.