James Trettwer’s inter-linked collection of stories, Thorn-Field, dissects small-town life and probes into complications of those who live there. The fictional town of Liverwood’s main employer is the potash mine that seems to arc over the town and everything people do. With a novel-like persistence to detail, Trettwer’s stories observe how the towns people thread their way through the thorn-fields of their relationships which are complicated by their addictions and obsessions and by the numbing constancy of their lives. In the background the mine looms large, its four-rotor boring machines rumble deep under the earth, while six kilometers away, Livewood town life embraces their rhythm. In assembling Trettwer’s links between stories, we witness elimination of the romanticism often associated with small town simplicity, and see the exposure of the unhappiness, corruption, and the exploitation that drive the town’s human affairs. The stories disclose the fears of those whom the mine has orphaned like Lourdes whose life forward was always fraught with uncertainty that had to be met with bravado; the stories describe all the hard-drinking and the uncertain young men like Dillon, Darryl and Blake, or the young women driven by lust that leads to unwanted pregnancies. In Thorn-Field small town life is anything but idyllic but rather becomes a collage of human foibles and peoples’ dangerous vulnerabilities.
Scattered throughout the stories are the addicts, enablers, those obsessed with better lives and those who are resigned to small town life under the big smokestacks. Thorn-Field is a collection of linked short stories that examines how small town despair can cripple the spirit but also how community faith and trust can heal it. These are stories of what it means to remain locked into a life where narrow thinking and idle talk can destroy the will to find something better than a place where rumours fly and there’s no place to hide.
From “Threading Through Thorn-Fields”
“I thought you left town.” Lourdes' voice is steady.
“I need money.” Edna sways, then leans her hand on the wall. Her eyes are bloodshot and vacant, heavy with black circles. “Help me out.”
“I don’t have any money to give you.”
“Whaddya mean? You must have a shit-load of money working here all the time. I hear you don’t pay rent. I have to help pay for gas.” Her head tilts in the direction of the idling tanker.
“I said, ‘I don’t have any money to give you.’ I have to save everything I earn for university.”
Edna straightens up, shuffles forward a step, and vaguely waves her index finger. “Oh, you’re a miss hoity-toity university student already, are you? You’re still in high school and you’re too good to help your own mother?”
“My mother abandoned me a long time ago.”
Edna says, “I named you Lourdes because you were supposed to heal my marriage. Supposed to heal me. You failed me and now you can’t even find the compassion to help me out?”
Lew didn’t want to end up like his father, Lewis Senior. A binge drinker who somehow scored long term disability early in his work career, his boozy abuse was all about neglect. Missing many school concerts and Christmas plays and being “sick” in bed, even for Lew’s Grade 8 farewell