Containing rural atmosphere, dry humor, detailed description, and characters that seem glued together from wood chips, Parts North convinces the reader early that author Kevin Cohen knows his territory.
The conflict of Parts North centers on Quinton, a safe cracker who was imprisoned for years and his grown son, Newland, who lost an arm racing against a young man who is now a town cop. Newland never knew his father and Quinton’s return home after losing his job as a stableman—and his subsequent decision to become a scab against the paper mill workers, of which Newland is one—form the skeleton of the narrative.
Newland is conflicted over whether to continue to reach out to his reticent father or just take off, leave all of it behind and stake out a new life. To paraphrase him, he doesn’t have a family—just a bunch of people going in different directions. The union men are painted with deft strokes and, that conflict is also well defined.
Cohen’s well-worn themes of the pull of family, upbringing, and job—scraping against the desire to escape and discover oneself away from personal history—play out around the White Mountains near Nezinscot, Maine. He punctuates his story with a dozen fully-formed supporting characters, including Celia, Newland’s mother and Quinton’s former wife; Newland’s grandmother, Submit; Sloane, Celia’s current husband; and Newland’s on and off girlfriend, Ann-Marie.
Cohen is a writer with a firm grasp of the rhythms and colloquialisms. He knows intimate details of harness racing, how paper is produced, how to make nitroglycerin, and perhaps—most fascinating—how to bust open a safe. His physical descriptions of people is fresh.
“A strong chin formed the basis of Submit’s mouth and when she smiled, her upper features spilled into the protection of her lower jaw. It was a smile with no teeth—just just dimples and apology.”
As good as Cohen’s first novel Fortunate One was in its dissection of Hollywood, Cohen takes a huge step forward with his follow-up, tackling far different subject matter with pacing and subtlety and earthy, smoothly executed craft. The ultimate resolution, is logical, if not storybook.
Reviewed by Joe DelPriore for IndieReader