February 1, 2004
Going to Bend
Hubbard, Ore., the fictional setting of Diane Hammond's debut novel, "Going to Bend," is the kind of depressed, coastal highway town that you might drive through a hundred times without ever stopping. Hammond stops, and in doing so she conjures up a place so rich with narrative and so deeply human that you will never blow through coastal towns the same way again.
"Going to Bend" centers on friends Petie and Rose. Both 31, the two begin the book seemingly trapped in a cycle that began generations ago. Petie's life has been harder than Rose's. Both grew up poor, but Petie grew up in a trailer in the woods with Old Man, her alcoholic and abusive father. Whereas Rose is "soft" with "calm purpose," Petie is "small" and "flammable."
Now Petie has two kids and is married to Eddie, the loser son of the woman who eventually took Petie in. Rose is a single mother, whose daughter is on the cusp of coming of age in a town where sex is more likely to mark the end of something than the beginning. Both Petie and Rose are at romantic, financial and personal crossroads.
Hammond captures the life of a Northwest coastal town with a knowing sense of place -- from the lack of local interest in the scenery to the social awkwardness with which a fisherman moves through the off-season. Petie and Rose work at Souperior's, a soup cafe run by a brother and sister new to town and bearing their own dark secret.
"Petie remembered when the shambly little place had been the barber shop," writes Hammond. "And all the Hubbard men had looked alike because old Walt Miller hadn't gone to barber school up in Portland yet to learn a second way to cut hair."
Rose and Petie, like many Hubbard residents, don't dare ask much from life. In Hubbard, hope is something reserved for teenagers. As Petie says, "Sooner or later something terrible's going to come along. It's really just a question of timing."
Hammond is a gifted writer, and the descriptions she uses get to something deep within a character in a few words. She describes Petie as "always trying to grow out old bangs," a characterization that speaks to both Petie's chronic lack of self- satisfaction and her inability to do anything about it.
Key to the book is Hammond's tender respect for her setting and her characters. From incest, poverty, illness and alcoholism to friendship and the possibility of love, "Going to Bend" paints a picture of a town in which small triumphs can make up for large sufferings. Just as in your town. In the end, hope springs from the most surprising place of all: right out of nowhere. This is a delightful, spirited debut.