Thursday, May 14, 2015

All That I Have by Castle Freeman, Jr.

There should be a term for novels that reflect life in the hills and valleys of the eastern United States just as we have a term for novels set on the plains and mountains of the West. Of course, the term "western" encompasses a sense of yearning for new and undiscovered terrain while "eastern," if this book is any guide, might carry a sense of holding in and holding on to old ways of doing things.

The cover copy on this book tells us that Castle Freeman, Jr. is the author of three books but the website Goodreads tells different story. Freeman has been spinning yarns for years and many of his stories get published one way or another…in magazines, in collections, between covers all his own. One thing is sure: Freeman’s the real deal, the genuine article. Backwoods eastern is laconic as the day is long and it takes that long sometimes for someone in his novels to come up with a retort to something said, inferred, or done.

Lucian Wing is the sheriff of a small town—small collection of towns, I should say: seventeen towns with a few people and lots of trees, hills, and room for maneuver. Wingate, Wing’s mentor and sheriff before him, picked Wing as deputy in the time-honored way—by promising a wage cut and little excitement. Wingate sensed Wing was a sheriff at heart; that is, Wing knew the difference between being a sheriff and being a cop.

Freeman paints so well the collection of folks one finds in small eastern towns and gives them words to speak that have us choking with laughter and recognition. Some kids are dumber n’ rocks and will always be that way—figuring the world is there to confound them. They’ll get themselves in trouble for sure but the sheriff’s job is to keep them out of trouble, which is why the sheriff has to be ahead of them every step of the way. People are going to do what they are going to do. Sheriffing is about letting people do what they’re going to do and then clean up afterwards.

Lucian Wing is married. He loves his wife and his wife loves him, but sometimes things get a little off track. At those times, his wife shows him her back and Lucian sleeps on the couch. This little book tells us about the man who can weather those nights on the couch and what he thinks about as he’s doing it. It’s a little like sheriffing.

A portrait photographer comes to town and takes pictures of the local bad boy. Lucian sees the portraits the woman has taken and realizes that the bad boy could be anywhere, in any situation, and he would always carry the same understanding about the world. Which is to say, nothing. The portrait photographer draws a line from the local bad boy to Sheriff Wing and claims they are similar types of “internal” men. Wherever you go, there you are.

This is a slim novel big with ideas and that deep humor that comes with knowledge of the human condition. One could place it beside the work of another author who writes about a sheriff in a town with few people, Craig Johnson writing the Longmire series set in Wyoming, and see parallels and consistencies. This has less action but just as much sheriffing going on.

Castle Freeman, Jr. came to my attention when his novel Go With Me was published. I bought several copies of that book and passed them out to friends and family. I still consider it a classic of its type. Almost all dialogue, it resembles this novel for its observations of humans in their habitat—doing what they’re going to do. I have just learned that that book was recently made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles, Ray Liotta, and Hal Holbrook and is due out this year. Read the book. See the movie. It doesn’t get much better than this.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores


  1. What a wonderfully written review! I'm adding your link to my post about the movie. Now I'm really psyched for the film! Thanks.

    1. I was so pleased to discover your research on the movie. It sounds like it will be terrific, and of course I hope Freeman sells a million copies of that great comic novel.