Clark I reviews books and sometimes writes them!
Celebrate the Sinner: Steven Merle Scott
The voices you hear belong to one man yet it might sound like the events are coming from two. As a young boy Teddy learned that he was adopted and placed with a family who was anything but nurturing. With a mother who left a note along with him claiming that she would be back for him, Teddy’s life started off on the wrong path. Adoptive parents are usually caring and want the child they are lucky enough to get. This young man lived in Oregon and was brought up in an environment which was stark, cold, filled with men working in the lumber industry and two parents that were not what any child needed. The Great Depression brought many changes to families. Teddy lives with a father named Merle who purchases a bankrupt sawmill and moves his family to Oregon. Living in an isolated mill town Teddy hunts in search of love, understanding and hope that somewhere and somehow he will connect with anyone who will show him so kindness or love. Celebrate the sinner, is partly based on his real father. Reading an interview with the author I learned that his father, “ a man who shared the household in which I was raised,” he states, “ but never grew to know. I collected germs from his childhood—places, people and events—and created a story that celebrates the life of an innocent boy who became that man. I placed the boy’s face on the cover so that we can’t forget the child he once was.” This makes the story come alive to the reader and helps you understand just how powerful it is.”
There is much more to the messages and story than just Teddy’s life that unfolds for the reader. As we all take the journey back in time with Teddy as a child we meet his mother, father and grandmother each searching for their own special place in this world. His father’s passion was in logs or the lumber industry. His mother never seemed to find her niche and just went along with whatever he wanted. Not allowing herself to feel worthy of anything she was like a diamond with so many flaws and not one perfect facet that was worth very much. Grandma Fraser was mean, unfeeling and only allow Teddy and his mother to live with her because they had no other place to go. Unfeeling, cold and heartless at times they left her home in the dead of morning and traveled on a train with some unlikely companions to the location of Merle’s next venture. But, his father, Merle was dead set on trying to succeed and does not hesitate to do something that would change it all. Adding his allegiance to the KKK would bring him some powerful and dangerous friends. Marie, Teddy’s mother finds him in the Waverly Baby Home. Deciding to choose Teddy should have created a life for this young child that would be special but it was not. Teddy has hidden defects and when you read the note his birth mother left you will understand more. Marie is unsure of herself, lacks stamina and poor self-esteem leaving Teddy where we meet him how trying to find his own place and hopefully more meaning for his family. Their journey was to Culp Creek and although Teddy was trying hard to remain inconspicuous on the train his mother seemed to gain attention, as the male passengers seemed concerned about their destination.
Alighting from the train you might say his mother was more like an automaton going through the motions, talking with the men who seemed to care for her and Teddy along the way and then hoping that Merle would be there to greet them but what did was not what any child expected. Told that he could and should not go to third grade, could not read yet and he had a learning disability brings to light many other issues concerning Teddy and then the words that come out of his grandmother’s mouth would devastate anyone. The cruelty of this woman is more than apparent and her words would mark any child in a negative way. Then, things changed, the teacher added something to his report and Teddy hoped for a miracle. The narrow mindedness the defeat within him comes through and the frustration of not being accepted for who he was and loved was more than sad.
But, let’s fast forward to Teddy now at 89 almost 90 as he recounts how he met his hot 62 year young girlfriend, Rita and he shares their relationship with readers. Flashing back once again to 1929. Within the structure of any building are the walls, doors, windows and elements that prevent it from falling apart. A family is not any different as we unfold the many layers within this family’s structure and each person’s secrets, lies, betrayals and deceits unfold within the family’s huge framework. A father who defied the prohibition laws, a grandmother who ran her life stricter than that nun, a mother who seemed to create her own fantasy world and a young boy named Teddy caught within the maze with no where to go or escape. We also meet his Uncle Normal who although they feel the name does not fit provides the only really solace or caring moments presented within the pages of this book for Teddy.
School did not prove to be any place to make Teddy feel special as his teacher did not have the wherewithal to provide the necessary tools for him and probably others to excel. Not learning to read and having no one skilled to teach him left Teddy within another maze or veil of fog that needed to be lifted with a clearer and more direct path. Sharing more about his father and a man named Boone Shaw that worked closely with his dad describes two men with their own views on life. Boone the bouncer at the Bucket of Blood Roadhouse and his father hoping to make that one great deal that would put his business on the map you might say. One man who did not really see Teddy for who he was and one who thought him worth the effort as Teddy, our narrator relates the kind of people that went to the Roadhouse and why.
Revelations come about when you least expect them and the truth behind certain fires, Dolomite Lumber’s success, the railroad flourishing will bring to light more about how the Klan’s influence reigned in Eugene and how some of these people would do anything to take what belonged to others. When Merle and a man named Mackenzie meet and he’s told he is losing the rights to the water from Culp Creek things start to heat up and the information shared will bring many things to light as Teddy’s father is not going down without a fight. Relationships are fragile as Teddy states and when his father’s mill burns and you learn the underlying reason why no one spotted it you begin to learn more about these people, business practices and loyalties. Teddy did not grow up with two nurturing parents, he never seemed to be able to be good enough yet with Boone and several others he managed to penetrate the framework of his family and find acceptance somewhere else.
The research into the lumber business is extensive and the characters are uniquely depicted as our narrator, Teddy keeps the story moving flashing back from past to present. Using italics the author allows the reader to differentiate which time period he’s sharing and which Teddy we are hearing. Murder, unions, fires, lies, betrayals and the Klan dominate the final scenes in this novel. Just what happens you will learn when you find out the true definition of the word Sinner and just how many characters fit within its definition. Celebrate the Sinner goes beyond Merle, Marie and Teddy but within the entire community of Eugene. A teacher caught in the crossfire. Prejudice in many ways not just against blacks this author brings to light so many issues plus the era of unions, strikes, illegal business practices and Roosevelt’s New Deal. An ending that will impact readers greatly and a book that is a definite must read.
An ending that will definitely make you think and one young man whose fate you will have to decide. Flashing back from the past to the present you will find that the ending and the final scene come together as one. Teddy’s life was lived in the shadow of his family and those that were supposed to care for him left him to decide where he would wind up on his own. Read this novel and you decide just whom the real sinners are.
Fran Lewis: reviewer