Thursday, May 8, 2014
When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin
Within seconds of seeing Annie outside her lemonade stand, Reese can tell that the frail pale youngster has serious health issues. Just by watching her respiration, he can see that her heart is diseased and weakened. Also clear is that her charm and smile have captured Reese's heart, a feat readers will learn shortly is not easily done. In fact he's spent the last five years protecting himself from any meaningful involvement with the human race.
Just as Reese turns away from the girl's lemonade stand, a freak wind blows her money cup over and Annie makes a rushed attempt to catch the coins and bills. At the same time a truck approaches and the girl is hit. Annie's aunt runs to the scene but Reese is the one who commands the immediate care, seeming to understand what could be happening with the girl's weakened heart. Minutes later as Annie is loaded into an ambulance, Reese gives no more detailed explanation of his skill than a sketchy story that he worked as an EMT when he was in college. A casual relationship will develop over the weeks as Reese learns more about Annie and her aunt. They, however, will learn almost nothing about Reese except that he likes to restore boats. Readers, in carefully measured snippets, will learn the essentials of his great love, his abandoned career and the mistake that he can't forgive himself for making.
I read a professional review of this book which really slammed its strong Christian message and the unlikely chain of events that drive the book. I may agree on the unlikely sequence of events, but found the writing compelled me to continue reading. I wanted to believe this story -- I wanted to see Reese's extraordinary love, a love that gave his life purpose from childhood on. I wanted to believe that one person could care so deeply for another. Some parts of the book did not click with me (such as the bar with the "transplant burgers" and scripture napkins), but like authors such as Nicholas Sparks, Martin told a story I could not put down. I learned so much medical information about hearts and transplants and I enjoyed the literary quotations that helped shape the story. With words as effective as a paintbrush, Martin creates the landscape of Lake Burton and the town which has rallied around Annie. Even the cold, austere walls of the surgical units and the emergency helicopters are softened as the author peoples them with caring individuals whose stories go beyond a simple need to make the story realistic.
Good fiction should help us in our lifelong quest to be better people, to be more empathetic, to understand others better. With fiction, we can see that everyone has a story worth telling and cherishing. Often the best writers use the minor incidents as pivotal observation points. In When Crickets Cry there is a gentle, non-preachy conversation between Reese and a teenage boy about "girlie magazines" that I will always remember. That kind of writing is why I will seek out and read more Charles Martin books. Since first reading that negative review, I've seen many, many positive reviews. Clearly those who choose to read Christian fiction or gentle stories found much to like in this book. I found this title through WPLC, our Wisconsin library source for ebooks and audiobooks. If you have never read anything by Charles Martin, check out his website for summaries of his books. Most have a medical connection and they all sound exciting.