Superlative Storytelling: a novel with staying power
by Kathleen M. Rodgers (Air Force)
A week after finishing Jodie Cain Smith’s novel, The Woods at Barlow Bend, I can’t stop thinking about her characters and the mystery that surrounds the death of the beautiful and lively Addie Andrews, supposedly from a freak hunting accident.
As I sit at the breakfast table drinking my coffee, my mind travels back to rural Alabama on the morning of January 31,1934. The dashing Hubbard Andrews carries his young wife’s body two miles through the woods at Barlow Bend. As he trudges along, trying to decide what to do next, he contemplates how he will tell his four children about their mother’s death. Even as he places Addie’s lifeless body on the backseat of her beloved 1930 Model T Ford ragtop, I’m already one step ahead of him, dreading that moment when his thirteen-year-old daughter Hattie, the oldest of the four kids, realizes the feisty and loving woman she looks up to, the woman who “shined in the center of our lives like the sun” is never coming home.
With the exception of the opening passages, written in third person and seen through Hubbard’s viewpoint, the rest of the story is narrated by young Hattie Andrews, a reliable protagonist I fell in love with the moment her voice took over the tale. Unlike her daddy, a weak and shiftless man headed on a downward spiral, Hattie has gumption, a term we don’t hear much these days. And because of that gumption, I rooted for her as she kept the family together, even after her daddy was accused of murder. Even though Addie is dead before the tale begins, she comes alive in the heart and mind of the reader as we see her through Hattie’s eyes.
In one of my favorite passages, which I highlighted to read over and over again, Hattie reflects on her momma:
“Sometimes, she needed to remind herself that adventures could be found right around any corner. ‘You just have to make the turn,’ she would say to me as we rode with the ragtop down…”
When you open up this novel, you will forget it’s 2015 and that you have a life outside of the story. You will forget that you’re reading from an electronic device or an old-fashioned paperback. Whether you’re in a skyscraper, a mountain cabin, or on a crowded bus or airliner, your mind will drift back in time to a place you’ve probably never been. But in a matter of seconds, after reading the author’s opening lines, the Alabama setting will be so familiar, you’ll wonder why you ever left.
How can that be, you say?
Because Jodie Cain Smith is such a skilled storyteller, her teenage narrator, Hattie, will wrap around your heart and settle in to stay.
Smith, Jodie Cain. The Woods at Barlow Bend. Deer Hawk Publications, 2015.
Read Jodie Cain Smith’s web site
About the author:
Jodie Cain Smith, an Army spouse and author, spent her childhood exploring the shores of Mobile Bay with her three siblings. As a teen in Mobile, AL, Jodie’s grandmother told her the gripping story of an adolescence spent in 1930’s rural Alabama, the rumors surrounding her parents, and the murder trial that would alter her life. The tale took root in Jodie’s memory until at last it became The Woods at Barlow Bend, her debut novel to be released November 19, 2014 by Deer Hawk Publications.
While attending the University of South Alabama, where Jodie earned a BFA in Theatre Arts, she met her husband Jay. They began their life on the Army road in 2001 and have not stopped moving since. As an Army Wife, she has lived in six different states from the extreme heat of Texas to the blizzards of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where she earned a MAE in School Counseling at Northern Michigan University.
When she is not living in the fictional worlds she creates via her laptop, Jodie can be found onstage and in the studio working as an actress and teaching artist.
Jodie Cain Smith’s short stories, feature articles, and columns have appeared in The Petigru Review, Chicken Soup for the Military Spouse’s Soul, The Savannah Morning News, and the Fort Hood Sentinel.
To learn more about Jodie Cain Smith and her thoughts on ruling, renovating, and escaping her corner of the world visit her blog The Queendom or her website, jodiecainsmith.com.
About the reviewer:
(from Kathleen Rodgers’s web site:) Growing up in a family of six kids in Clovis, New Mexico, home of Cannon Air Force Base and the Santa Fe Railroad, I spent countless hours in a rocking chair, daydreaming about what it would be like to be someone else. Little did I know then that I was simply creating stories in my head. Then one day I learned that I could write them down.
Through my writing, I’ve been able to explore many subjects. My goal is always to get to the truth through the people and places I write about, real or imagined. Along the way, I’ve encountered many roadblocks and detours, but I’ve pressed ahead and kept my eyes on the goals I mapped out years ago.
I am the mother of two grown sons, Thomas (an award-winning artist) and J.P. (a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army). I live in Colleyville, TX, with my husband, Tom, a retired fighter pilot/ airline pilot, and our shelter dog, Denton, who came to us after we lost our Chocolate Lab, Bubba Dog a few weeks after I finished my second novel, Johnnie Come Lately.
Kathleen just informed me that Jodie Cain Smith just welcomed her first child, a baby boy named Sebastian, yesterday! Congratulations, Jodie!
And thank you for this review, Kathleen. I’m reading ‘The Woods at Barlow Bend’ right now and am really enjoying it. Smith plots a mystery really well, and I love the dynamic characters of Hattie and Hubbard.
So glad you are enjoying The Woods at Barlow Bend. Jodie Cain Smith had me at the introduction.
I’ll make sure she sees your comment! And thank you again for publishing my review.
All the best,