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While fiction about the 1950s Civil Rights era is far from rare, few capture the period and struggles from the perspective of a white child.
A storm is brewing in the all-but-forgotten back country of Kentucky. And, for young Orbie Ray, the swirling heavens may just have the power to tear open his family’s darkest secrets. Then Like the Blind Man tells the story of a white youth cast aside in the segregated South of the 1950s, and the forces he must overcome to restore order to his world.
Nine-year-old Orbie already has his cross to bear. After the death of his father, his mother Ruby has off and married Victor, a slick-talking man with a snake tattoo. Orbie hates his stepfather more than he can stand, a fact that lands him at his grandparents’ place in Harlan’s Crossroads, Kentucky. Orbie grudgingly adjusts to life with his doting Granny and carping Granpaw, who are a bit too keen on their black neighbors for Orbie’s taste, not to mention the local Pentecostal congregation of snake handlers. Soon, however, he finds his worldviews changing, particularly when it comes to matters of race, religion and the true cause of his father’s death.
Equal parts Hamlet and Huckleberry Finn, Then Like the Blind Man is certain to resonate with lovers of literary as well as historical fiction, particularly in the grand Southern tradition of storytelling.
…Owens captures his characters’ folksy Appalachian diction without overdoing it. He also renders a child’s viewpoint with great psychological sensitivity: “I didn’t like the way [Victor] was all the time trying to be on my mind. It was too close together somehow–like when Momma started talking about Jesus and wouldn’t shut up.”
A psychologically astute… and satisfying novel.
* Starred Kirkus Review *
Every once in awhile, you read a book in which every element fits together so perfectly that you just sit back in awe at the skill of the storyteller. Then Like the Blind Man is one of these books.
* The San Francisco Book Review *
In an American coming-of-age novel, the author presents a stunning story with clarity and historical accuracy, rich in illuminating the Appalachian culture of the time period. …[It] brings history alive, depicting American union labor practices and the racial prejudices that were so prevalent in the 1950’s.
* Publisher’s Weekly *
The weight of the world was never meant for the young. With much of faith andlearning, “Then Like the Blind Man” is a strong addition to generalfiction collections with a focus on coming of age tales.
*John Taylor/ The Midwest Book Review*
Orbie’s sharecropping grandparents, by defying convention with unnerving grace, become founts of colloquial wisdom whose appeal is impossible to resist, and the Orbie they nurture — the best version of a boy who may otherwise have been lost — is someone the reader comes to love.
* Michelle Schingler / ForeWord Book Review *
The magical undercurrent that runs through the story adds to its feeling of other-worldliness, and the symbolism is both omnipresent and beautifully handled…
* Catherine Langrehr / The Indie Reader *
Accolades for Blind Man:
ABNA Quarter Finalist (2013)
Received IR Discovery Award for Best in Literary Fiction (2013)
Finalist for Kindle Book Review’s Literary Fiction Award. (2014)
Received Kirkus Review’s STAR for exceptional merit. Featured in Kirkus Reviews Magazine (Jan., 2014)
A Writer’s Digest Honorable Mention Winner, garnering perfect scores in all evaluative areas. (2016)
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Dead Chicken Memories…
I grew up around Detroit, but would sometimes spend a week or two – once I spent six weeks – in Kentucky, my birth state, staying with cousins or with my grandparents. It was an entirely different world for me, providing some of the best and worst times of my growing up years. I had a great time on a dairy farm there with several of my cousins, milking cows, hoeing tobacco, running over the hills and up and down a creek that surrounded the big farm. I remember too, periods of abject boredom, sitting around my grandparent’s old farm house with nothing to do but wander about the red clay yard or kill flies on my grandmother’s screened-in back porch.
Certain aspects of these growing up years did come to light in the novel, Then Like The Blind Man: Orbie’s Story, knowingly at times, and at times spontaneously and distantly, as ghostly north-south structures, as composite personae, as moles and stains and tears and glistening rain and dark bottles of beer, rooms of cigarette smoke, hay lofts and pigs.
As conveyed above, I spent several of my growing-up summers in what to me was this Kentucky wilderness. While my big city prejudices and toxic beliefs about ‘hillbillies’ were quashed there, my prejudices against ‘colored people’ were largely supported.
With each trip I became more and more confounded by a white culture that could be very loving of its own kind but not of those belonging to the black culture. It wasn’t until college and the advent of the Civil Rights Movement that I began to untangle this confusion. Then Like the Blind Man fictionalizes and captures aspects of this journey.