Dramatic and heartwarming, most of the action in this lovely novel moves from the Mattole Valley in Northern California to San Francisco. An intimate examination of love and the expectations of family, the tale begins as Len, a redwood forester, is forced to adopt his young nephew Wrecker, bringing him back to live with him on Bow Farm, an alternative collective nestled in the rain-soaked western reaches of Humboldt County.
This is 1968, the year ripening "from innocent spring into the summer of love." The boy’s mother, Lisa Fay, has been incarcerated after being led astray by her sweaty, drug-addled boyfriend, who has spent much of his life chasing skirts and money-making opportunities. When Wrecker turns three, Lisa has little choice but to hand her boy over to the authorities.
At first, Len appears little able to care for him. Only six months have
passed since his wife, Meg, went in for a root canal and came home with an infection that spread into her brain. Not to worry; the other members of Bow Farm - Willow, Ruth, and Melody
- willingly step in, all entranced by the young boy with his stormy blue eyes “the color of sea-squall” and his short fuse.
In this “sleepy, soggy paradise of the ages,” every time Len turns his back the boy is disappearing into the woods or into the lumber shed. Apart from Melody’s guarded glances, no one else seems to think it odd, the arrival of this small interloper, plagued “by such rapid fire emotion.” Sooner or later the state would assign him a permanent family, but until that time he comes to call Bow Farm home.
From San Francisco to Mattole Valley and its golden rays of autumn hovering in its “nether reaches,” the remote, dilapidated Bow Farm becomes the centerpiece for these characters' goals and frustrations as each in their own way falls hard for Wrecker. The boy sets something aflutter in Melody that is hard to ignore. The years pass, and he matures into a man’s body with a good mind and a growing command of his emotions.
The meadows golden with October’s honey light become a lovely backdrop to the drama and secrets at Bow Farm. While Len strives to make his living from the land, muscling his way with sweat and skill toward the things he wants, Melody ponders how close she came to losing Wrecker. Lisa Fay lies in her bunk, letting the memories of her past slowly unfurl, and Ruth’s energy is boundless, her love for Wrecker driven by a heart of gold.
Wood doesn’t sugarcoat her characters' daily struggles to survive amid tightfisted days of poverty and need. Combining attentiveness with care, Wrecker's slide into adulthood is deftly drawn, the author's prose consistently colorful and lyrical. Faced with adversity and hope, Wrecker, the shining star, is humbled as he steadily grows into a fine young man, his beloved and compassionate family always at his side.