This week's read is a new release from University of Nebraska Press's Flyover Fiction series. Melissa Fraterrigo's book "Glory Days" is set in the Midwestern town of Ingleside, Nebraska, a Plains town of ranchers and farmers, criminals and ghosts, carnies and psychics, and everything in between.
While the book reads a bit like a collection of short stories, each chapter is connected to the next through at least one character. Each story weaves into the whole, which mainly focuses on the characters of Teensy and his daughter Luann with brief side trips into stories about others who are connected to the two.
The book opens with a story about the death of Teensy's wife and Luann's mother, which coincides with the beginning of the death of a small farming town. Land all around the area, including Teensy's, is being bought up by developers. People are losing jobs and homes, and a way of life is coming to an end.
Through these stories about the local people, we see the changes this small town goes through and how the changes affect the people there. The loss of community identity changes these characters and haunts them just as much as, if not more than, the ghosts of the people they've lost. In turn, each of the characters impacts another, each life touching, twisting, and changing the lives of those around them in both subtle and dramatic ways.
The book depicts a downward spiral for a community and its inhabitants. Every turn of the page could bring the characters redemption but doesn't -- they are too haunted to return to who they once were. We watch people become horrible to themselves and to each other, inflicting pain on those around them because they don't know how to deal with their own pain.
Farmland turns to housing developments which sit empty and an amusement park that burns down. Without jobs, many in the community turn to crime. In most of the chapters, we see people at the lowest depths of humanity. We watch how their terrible actions affect others, the damage spreading and multiplying until everyone is touched by tragedy yet still somehow alone in their misery.
But then, a different kind of change arrives. Teensy inherits a sum of money and uses it to buy cattle. Fraterrigo writes, "It had been years since he had herded up cows from the back of a horse or pregnancy-checked a heifer -- but he could sense that part of himself deep below the surface. Knew that just like these heifers needed tending to that he, too, could be made over, extracted from his blubbery self."
The long years of downward spiral we have been witnessing finally arrests, at least for this one man. Teensy comes back to himself, and is made whole again despite all of the losses and trauma. He starts his life over by getting back to his roots. It is redemption at last -- a tiny glimmer of hope in a sea of despair -- one man determined to be himself and live the life he has spent years longing to live again. He is old now, but shows that it is never too late to start over, never too late to be who he is meant to be. A person is never too far gone to get back to themselves if they truly want it.
While we can figure out this is a modern tale by small details about the birthdates of some characters, Fraterrigo's setting is timeless -- any part of the story could have happened decades ago or yesterday. It's a see-saw of growth and decline that anyone raised in the Midwest can understand deep in their bones.
We've seen this story before, in the news and in the faces of the people around us. It resonates because it could easily be written about us, our friends, our families. It is heartbreaking because it is so real, but that's also what makes Teensy's eventual redemption so rewarding.
In a world as unsteady, unstable, as forever shifting as this one, to see one man rise from such depths to find a life he considers worth living should inspire us all to never give up on our dreams and ourselves.