REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN
Everybody knows about Southern Gothic, a popular literary form for fiction and motion pictures, but Prairie Gothic is also something to be reckoned with, as Derek Rempfer shows so eloquently in his novel “Where the Broken Lie” (Immortal Ink Publishing LLC, 180 pages, $10.95, also available in a $3.95 Kindle edition from Amazon.com).
Tucker Gaines, his wife Tammy, and their young daughter Tory, have traveled from their home in the far west Chicago suburb of Westfield to Tucker’s hometown, Willow Grove. (Both towns are fictitious, but are based on real places in northeastern Illinois, as is the town of Glidden).
They’re visiting the grave of Tucker and Tammy’s stillborn infant boy, Ethan. At first I wondered why Ethan was buried so far from their home, but it quickly came to me: Willow Grove is where almost all the Gaineses — living and dead — reside. Westfield is an anonymous suburb, where almost everybody is from somewhere else.
While in the cemetery — with Tammy and Tory back in Westfield — Tucker visits the grave of Katie Cooper, his childhood sweetheart. Officially, Katie was abducted in 1981 at the age of 11, molested and murdered by a drifter known to everybody as Slim Jim. But soon, as he interacts with his friends and not-so-friends who still live in Willow Grove, Tucker begins to doubt the official story of Katie’s death.
Some of the clues come from Tucker’s conversations — many of them at the bar where Tucker consumes too many vodka tonics — with people who never left Willow Grove. Other clues come from anonymous letters left at graves, including that of Slim Jim, where one letter reads simply “INNOCENT.” Why is Slim Jim buried in the same graveyard as Katie? That’s one question that the author answers as the story of what really happened unfolds.
Growing up in a small town not far from the fictional Willow Grove, I heard of the secrets that lie buried just below the surface. Rempfer’s narrative rings true as Tucker Gaines investigates Katie’s death, while grieving for his son. As he comes close to the truth of what really happened back in 1981, Tucker wonders if he should proceed. The truth is too close to home and he wonders if it’s worth digging up what really happened so many years ago.
Whether you’re from Illinois or Idaho or wherever, I’m guessing you’ll recall the whispered secrets of your hometown — and see how Tucker handles the truth of who killed his first love. I think you’ll become as engrossed with the story as I did.
Derek Rempfer, a graduate of the University of Iowa, lives in De Kalb, IL, where one of the streets is named Annie Glidden Road. De Kalb’s famous as the hometown of Joseph F. Glidden’s improved form of barbed wire, hybrid corn and Northern Illinois University, which on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 defeated Bowling Green State University 51-17 to win the MAC football championship. The reviewer is a 1961 graduate of NIU. Go Huskies!