Third Tuesday Author: Nancy Judd Minor
Malheur August opens with a map of Malheur County, OR and its Malheur River. "Malheur" means "bad time," we're told -- and Nancy Minor plays with that notion skillfully. Set in 1971 with substantial flashback to the 1940s, her novel becomes an utterly convincing portrait of life in rural Oregon a generation or two ago.
Minor's protagonist, Jean Algood, spends her last home-from-college summer questioning her parents' friends and neighbors about what Clete and Oleta had been like at her age, and about what had gone wrong -- what had embittered her father and hollowed out her mother in the years before she was born.
This is not a bildungsroman, and it's not a murder mystery; it's a recovery tale, beautifully fragmented and waiting to be stitched back together into the crazy quilt which was "this American life" 50 or 75 years ago. It's spot-on about mid-20th-century rural life: it's full of affection and humor and dread. It's replete with rodeos and kittens, seductions and pregnancies, apple pies and accidental deaths and half-hearted heroism. It's loaded with secrets and their keepers. If you've ever studied the faces in old FSA photos, you've been in Malheur County. Read this book to understand those people and those times.
Nancy Minor is a lifelong Oregonian, raised in Vale near the Malheur River. She knows the landscape, the alkaline fields and the fishing spots, the places where teens go to break the rules, the dangerous parts of the river. And she knows the people -- the lonely child, the widow, the hired hand, the recluse, the woman who loves women, the truly gentle man. A graduate of Coos Bay High School and Brigham Young University, she is now retired from both high school and college teaching; she lives in Lake Oswego with her partner, Jerry, and their many cats and dogs.