Then Like The Blind Man by Freddie Wegela

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When was it first published?

Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie’s Story / Published November 15th, 2012.

What’s the book’s first line?

You could say what happened to me happened to all of us.

That sounds intriguing! What is the book about?

Reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, this “sensitive and gripping” coming-of age story evokes backcountry Kentucky in the troubled 1950’s in prose that’s spare yet lyrical — a “special” novel worthy of joining the ranks of an illustrious Southern literary tradition.”

– That’s what Kindle Nation has to say about it. 🙂

A short teaser, please let me know if you are captivated by it.

A storm is brewing in the all-but-forgotten backcountry 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: Orbie’s Story is the enthralling debut novel by Freddie Owens, which tells the story of a spirited wunderkind in the segregated South of the 1950s and the forces he must overcome to restore order in his world. Rich in authentic vernacular and evocative of a time and place long past, this absorbing work of magical realism offered up with a Southern twist will engage readers who relish the Southern literary canon, or any tale well told.

Nine-year-old Orbie already has his cross to bear. After the sudden death of his father, his mother Ruby has off and married his father’s coworker and friend Victor, a slick-talking man with a snake tattoo. Since the marriage, Orbie, his sister Missy, and his mother haven’t had a peaceful moment with the heavy-drinking, fitful new man of the house. Orbie hates his stepfather more than he can stand; this fact lands him at his grandparents’ place in Harlan’s Crossroads, Kentucky, when Victor decides to move the family to Florida without including him. In his new surroundings, Orbie finds little to distract him from Granpaw’s ornery ways and constant teasing jokes about snakes.

As 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 their Pentecostal congregation of snake handlers, he finds his world views changing, particularly when it comes to matters of race, religion, and the true cause of his father’s death. He befriends a boy named Willis, who shares his love of art, but not his skin color. And, when Orbie crosses paths with the black Choctaw preacher, Moses Mashbone, he learns of a power that could expose and defeat his enemies, but can’t be used for revenge. When a storm of unusual magnitude descends, he happens upon the solution to a paradox that is both magical and ordinary. The question is, will it be enough?

Equal parts Hamlet and Huckleberry Finn, it’s a tale that’s both rich in meaning, timely in its social relevance, and rollicking with boyhood adventure. The novel mines crucial contemporary issues, as well as the universality of the human experience while also casting a beguiling light on boyhood dreams and fears. It’s a well-spun, nuanced work of fiction that is certain to resonate with lovers of literary fiction, particularly in the grand Southern tradition of storytelling.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character?  Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of?

A funny thing happened on the way to the completion of my first novel. On a daily basis I found myself entering or trying to enter the skin of a nine-year-old boy, trying to see the world of the novel entirely from his point of view. I suppose I should thank the ‘Novel Muse’ for giving me such an opportunity. I mean it was fascinating. And your question gets to the heart of this one thing I was trying to do, i.e., show how dependent the world is on one’s point of view and how one’s point of view in turn depends on the world. I mean Blind Man is told from Orbie’s point of view, right? The reader, for example, sees the antagonist Victor through Orbie’s eyes. Victor therefore is a function of how Orbie sees him, and how Orbie sees Victor is in turn a function of Victor’s influence. He deceives and threatens Orbie’s point of view, challenges it, at times violently, but in the end Orbie’s view prevails, though profoundly transformed – as is his world.

Now, Victor Denalsky is not your typical villain. He is extremely complex, confusedly so, yet he seems somewhat cardboard-like in the beginning, almost stereotypical (intentionally so). I think this is because Orbie’s viewpoint is still rudimentary; he sees things in black and white nine-year-old terms, a parallel I suppose to the racist attitudes he displays early on. Victor is seen by Orbie to have some good qualities, he’s a war hero, he’s been in battles, he’s very good looking and has what seems to be a very friendly relationship with Orbie’s father, Jessie, and his mother, Ruby. An ominous quality enters all this however after Orbie’s father is killed in an accident at the steel mill and Victor moves in on his family and vulnerable mother, bringing with him the smell of toilet shit and beer and dead cigars.

Victor becomes the bad guy; the hated stepfather in Orbie’s eyes and everything enters hell from there on in until Orbie’s sensibilities are awakened in Kentucky. He has certain experiences there with his maverick grandparents, with the black community of Pentecostal snake handlers and with the Choctaw shaman, Moses Mashbone. He finds he can’t maintain his prejudices in an environment of humor and vibrant fellow feeling. Even his tightly nursed hatred of Victor begins to unravel. As his world (in spite of everything) becomes sweeter, happier, it becomes also more and more perplexing, posing questions worthy perhaps only of the nine-year-old wunderkind, paradoxical questions like, “How can you save what you want to destroy?” As Victor becomes increasingly monstrous, increasingly alcoholic, increasingly violent, we see also that he becomes oddly repentant, has himself been spiritually wounded, becoming worthy of a deep though uninvited sympathy. This all takes place in Orbie’s point of view, of course, which in turn is subject to the influence of the world of Kentucky and Harlan’s Crossroads, which again is subject to Orbie’s point of view. It’s a bit like standing between two mirrors and wondering at the crowd. Fascinating, to say the least.

Some characters that remind me of Orbie are Scout from the book To Kill A Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn and very darkly, the girl character Bone from Bastard Our of Carolina. I can’t say that I actually based Orbie on any of these, though memories of them may certainly have lurked in the shadows at the back of my mind as I wrote the book.

And finally, what is the main reason someone should read this book?

Read if for pleasure, for humor, for the suspense, the drama of contrary ideas contrasted, pitted one against the other. Read it for vividness of sense perception and lively portrayal of character. Read it because you have to read it, because you can’t put it down, for its lyricism and for its many surprises and sudden shouts. 

Has reading this triggered you to click the Amazon link and put the book on your TBR list? Or did you even buy it? Let the author, and me, know in the comments below and you’ll bring a smile to two faces. 🙂

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