Pasatiempo - - Unraveling A Child’s - Rob DeWalt I The New Mex­i­can

ore than a decade ago, Taos au­thor Sum­mer Wood and Kathy Namba lived with their three ’ tween-aged sons in a small, ru­ral North­ern New Mex­ico vil­lage. Hav­ing trained to be­come emer­gency fos­ter-care par­ents, they soon found them­selves tem­po­rar­ily in charge of four more boys, ages 4, 3, 2, and al­most 1, whose par­ents were strug­gling with drug ad­dic­tion.

The ex­pe­ri­ence led Wood to write her new­est work of fic­tion, Wrecker (pub­lished by Blooms­bury USA). Born in 1965, Wrecker — so named be­cause the char­ac­ter has the ten­dency to bull­doze the phys­i­cal ob­sta­cles spread out be­fore him while shrink­ing from the emo­tional ones — is taken from his drug-ad­dicted mother at the age of 3 and sent to live with rel­a­tives in Hum­boldt County, Cal­i­for­nia.

Wrecker’s new home life sud­denly shifts, how­ever, and he finds him­self raised by mem­bers of Bow Farm, a hippie com­mune. Wrecker or­bits around the frac­tured yet lov­able boy and the un­likely group of peo­ple

This boy didn’t look for­lorn, he looked

fe­ro­cious. … He was scarred and volatile

and more lu­mi­nous than any ce­les­tial

body. There had to be a way to dif­fuse

some of his ex­plo­sive anger.

— from Wrecker by Sum­mer Wood

who as­sume par­ent­ing roles on his be­half. In the process, the novel ex­plores in­trigu­ing no­tions of fam­ily, mother­hood, and com­mu­nity. It may take a vil­lage to raise a child, Wood says through her el­e­gant prose, but the vil­lagers must have a strong ca­pac­ity for love, pa­tience, flex­i­bil­ity, fragility, and com­pas­sion if it is to count for any­thing.

In 2007, Wood, a for­mer di­rec­tor of the Taos-based SO­MOS Youth Men­tor­ship Pro­gram for 12-to 18-year-old writers and a teacher in the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico’s Taos Sum­mer Writers’ Con­fer­ence, re­ceived a $50,000 Gift of Free­dom award from the non­profit A Room of Her Own

Foun­da­tion, which al­lowed her to com­plete Wrecker with ad­di­tional fi­nan­cial sup­port. The book is by no means au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal; Wood sim­ply felt the need to ex­plore the dy­namic of a boy search­ing for safe haven in the world and in his heart while cop­ing with the emo­tional and cir­cum­stan­tial dis­tance be­tween him­self and his birth mother.

To cel­e­brate the launch of the book, on Fri­day, Feb. 18, Col­lected

Works Book­store presents au­thors Wood and Robert Wilder ( Daddy Needs a Drink, Tales From the Teach­ers’ Lounge) in con­ver­sa­tion. Wood

spoke to Pasatiempo by phone from her Taos home.

Pasatiempo: How did Hum­boldt County and the farm-com­mune con­cept come into play in Wrecker’s up­bring­ing?

Sum­mer Wood: About 20 years ago, be­fore I moved to New Mex­ico, I lived in the Bay Area and there­abouts, and I used to go up to Hum­boldt all the time, partly be­cause it’s such a great, beau­ti­ful dose of wild coun­try. There’s so much sim­i­lar­ity be­tween Hum­boldt and Taos County in terms of the wildlife, and a kind of open­ness of the peo­ple, too. Pasa: Why did you choose to frame the story dur­ing the Viet­nam War era?

Wood: I wanted to get some of that sense of San Fran­cisco in the late ’60s, that com­bined air of think­ing any­thing could hap­pen and all rules are out the win­dow, but at the same time, the fact that things like fam­ily, peace­ful protests, and war don’t al­ways go the way you think or hope they’re go­ing to go. Wrecker’s mother, when she moved to San Fran — she had all of these ex­pec­ta­tions and ideas, and be­sides the fact that she made some bad choices, she also had some re­ally bad luck and ended up in a bad sit­u­a­tion. The peo­ple up in Bow Farm, the folks who take

Wrecker in, are try­ing to get away from so­ci­ety. There’s that sense of try­ing to cre­ate some­thing new, not re­ally like a Utopian im­pulse, but an Ar­ca­dian one. It gave me a chance as a writer to step back from what I think is true for so many par­ents these days: there’s so much in­tense pres­sure to be per­fect, to do the pre­sum­ably right thing for your kids, to be a “su­per­par­ent.” Set­ting the novel in that time al­lowed me to let the char­ac­ters ex­pand in their be­hav­iors, to be open to what­ever hap­pened to them­selves and with the boy.

It must be in­ter­est­ing to see how read­ers, es­pe­cially par­ents, re­act to the boy’s up­bring­ing, first by his mother, who’s in prison and even­tu­ally wants to re­con­nect, and then by this sort of is­land of mis­fit hippie denizens who, for all their idio­syn­cra­sies, man­age to do a fine job of get­ting Wrecker a lit­tle, well, un-wrecked.

To me, Wrecker’s birth mom is a won­der­ful mother when the boy is an in­fant. She re­ally cares for him, cher­ishes him. And in­ter­est­ingly, I get so much feed­back about what a mom she is, and how she aban­doned him, and so on. But she’s im­por­tant to me; she’s a driv­ing force. It’s vi­tal that she’s al­most a shadow story through­out the whole book. I didn’t want it to be, Oh, this bad mom ne­glects her son and gets shipped off to jail, and that’s the end of her. It’s never that sim­ple and clean. Be­ing a fos­ter par­ent re­ally drove it home for me: the vis­ceral un­der­stand­ing that, when you lose your kid, no mat­ter your cir­cum­stance, what that must feel like; and how you never are free of won­der­ing what’s go­ing on with him — or whether you will ever be able so see him again. It’s re­ally hard to be a par­ent with­out a lot of sup­port. If you don’t have money and so­cial recog­ni­tion, that’s a lot go­ing against you al­ready. If you toss in trou­ble with the law, re­gain­ing a lost or sur­ren­dered child be­comes al­most in­sur­mount­able.

As Wrecker’s past with his mother is re­vealed, so, too, are the mem­o­ries and emo­tions that drive a lot of the ac­tions of his new care­tak­ers. They all seem to have dif­fer­ent mo­tives, but they’re all rel­a­tively no­ble, given the cir­cum­stances and Wrecker’s com­plex be­hav­ior. Look, it’s one thing to say you love kids, and it’s an­other thing to stand there and con­tinue to show up and be present for a kid who has had hor­ri­ble things hap­pen to him and who may be man­i­fest­ing that though cer­tain be­hav­iors. But the peo­ple who keep go­ing back for more, who keep show­ing up for kids, have my deep­est re­spect, and the story is as much about them as it is Wrecker. When I be­gan writ­ing the book, which, at first — right af­ter writ­ing I thought was go­ing to be a fa­mil­iar and rather harm­less ex­er­cise, I kept ask­ing my­self, What is the most im­por­tant story to tell here? I was in­ter­ested in ask­ing these char­ac­ters, and my­self: Af­ter Wrecker is taken from his mother, who is bold and kind enough to stack one in­ti­mate mo­ment on top of an­other in the pur­suit of form­ing a life for him? What I learned — be­sides the fact that writ­ing is never a harm­less ex­er­cise — and what I think the most im­por­tant story turned out to be here, is that these peo­ples’ ac­tions con­firmed that there is no one sin­gle de­fin­i­tive way to love a per­son, and for that mat­ter, to raise one well.





Sum­mer Wood


Ar­royo —

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