From Oregon to LA, dramas that steer clear of formula
By Diane White, 1/11/2004
Diane Hammond and Elisabeth Robinson have written first novels that are
fresh and original, with the elusive but unmistakable flavor of
A glance at the jacket of Hammond's ''Going to Bend" made me fear I was in
for another three-hankie female-bonding novel, but the first page promised
something much better, and subsequent pages delivered. Hammond writes
simple, eloquent prose. She has created a memorable cast of characters.
''Going to Bend" surprises again and again.
The story unfolds in Hubbard, Ore., a small coastal tourist town,
beautiful but down at the heels, its main street lined with gift shops,
candy shops, kite shops. It's ''one of those places where you could still
have your choice of oceanfront trailers -- old rusting aqua and silver
tunafish-cans with moisture problems."
Petie Coolbaugh and Rose Bundy, friends since childhood, are young mothers
struggling to keep poverty at bay. Prickly Petie, ''small and hard and
tight and flammable, like the wick of a candle," is married to the
serially unemployed Eddie. They have two sons, 5-year-old Loose, who seems
bent on living up to his given name, Lucifer, and 8-year-old Ryan, shy and
strange. Gentle Rose, ''a big, soft woman of calm purpose and measurable
serenity," is single, with a teenage daughter, Carissa. Rose has an
uncertain relationship with Jim Christie, a fisherman who's seldom at
Petie and Rose are happy for the opportunity to supply gallons of homemade
soups to the new cafe in town, Souperior, owned by Nadine and Gordon
Erickson, 40-ish fraternal twins who, for reasons that gradually emerge,
left the pleasures and terrors of Los Angeles for a quieter life in
Hubbard. Nadine asks Rose to compile some local recipes as a way to
promote the restaurant. Gordon is impressed by Rose's writing and sends
her manuscript to a friend in publishing, who offers a contract. Rose
insists that Petie illustrate the book. The women's lives begin to change.
When Petie comes upon Jim and Carissa in a trailer in the woods, she jumps
to the wrong conclusion. It's an understandable reaction, given Petie's
own history of abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father.
But this is not a gooey tale of salvation through soup. ''Going to Bend"
is about about everyday survival, trying to live without bitterness, to
love difficult people, to be decent and generous even when it hurts.
Hammond is particularly good at portraying the pettiness of small-town
life and at delineating the particulars of near-poverty -- beat-up cars,
rundown houses, secondhand clothes, anxiety about the price of frozen
chicken parts, fear that any minute you'll hit bottom. ''Going to Bend" is
as complicated, ambiguous, and unpredictable as life.