“Cotton Rock” leaves a lasting impression
Published: Monday, April 30, 2012
Updated: Sunday, April 29, 2012 21:04
Devotion, remorse and self-worth decorate every crevice of Janet Smith Post’s first novel “Cotton Rock.” A writer’s self-doubt, a woman’s lost drive and a daughter’s anxiety weave an intricate pattern of pain in this undeniably addictive and memorable book.
“Cotton Rock” tells the story of multiple grief-stricken individuals tied together by English Professor John Sinclair. After the passing of his wife, Sinclair moves back to his home town of Cotton Rock in the Ozarks region of Arkansas. There, he connects with a student named Anna McKerry. Two of McKerry’s children drowned in an accident caused by an unattended dam. Post weaves Sinclair and McKerry together through McKerry’s remaining child, Leah, and a writing workshop for adult learners taught by Sinclair. These two characters are drawn together by their past traumas and, through writing, strive to overcome their heartaches.
An in-depth view of each character is provided through the various journal entries written by members of the class. John either reads student entries or writes his own as he gazes out at the White River flowing past his home. This format of multiple storylines allows a window into the students’ and Sinclair’s thoughts as they struggle with internal battles. In one journal entry, McKerry deals with the stress of caring for her mother whose memory is failing, and another entry concerns Sinclair as he stares at a mockingly-blank computer screen. This extra element adds an almost cinematic experience to the pages while symbolizing the stress of writer’s block which Sinclair has been heavily hit with.
Post graces each page with extensively-magnified detail so it feels as if the reader is on the porch alongside Sinclair as he scribbles away at his notebook. The in-depth and wholesome descriptions of days gone by create a homey vibe that lingers throughout the book. Sinclair’s recollection of his grandmother preparing green beans evoked images of the reader’s own mother tirelessly cooking for the holidays. Sinclair longingly stares at a cup of coffee as memories of his grandmother flood back into his mind, “Grandma Rowden sitting here with her bowl of green beans, fishing them out one-by-one, pinching the ends, snapping them into uniform lengths and dropping them into the cooking pot beside her.”
Many of the residents of Cotton Rock are trying to cope with the aftermath of sudden deaths in their own ways. For instance, McKerry slips into a groove where she always has to stay busy to keep her mind off her own problems, whereas her daughter, Leah, is constantly running away from them. Despite all the doom and gloom, Post is able to sprinkle in hints of grins. She incorporates the feisty young mind of Harlo, Leah’s daughter, along with comical citizens of Cotton Rock. Stories of sparring eagles and fish-hooked geese help lift the somber clouds of despair to let a little sunshine in, if only for a moment.
Strong descriptions of McKerry’s mother Mayta’s battle with Alzheimer's disease are abundant in this novel. The dilemma of McKerry having to watch her mother struggle to function in society escalates the story to a dramatic level. She takes Mayta out to town and, when she leaves her alone for a split second, Mayta disappears. Post writes, “I told myself she couldn’t have gone far. But I couldn’t find her anywhere.”
Post explores the ideas of what causes a person to either shut down and run away or turn around and fight their problems head on. The story stays steady and still like a quiet lake beneath a dam, but as soon as the floodgates open it revs up and leaves an unforgettable mark.
“Cotton Rock” by Janet Smith Post receives 4 out of 5 stars.