Of Foster Homes and Flies by Chad Lutzke
Available: Paperback, Kindle edition, Audible audiobook
Fatherless Denny Christopher Newman, age twelve, just wants to win the spelling bee. The only thing that may stand in his way is the death of his often-drunk, neglectful mother, rotting in her recliner, during the beginning of a hot summer in New Orleans. Denny’s only friends are the family dog, Ingrid; his classmate, Carter; and Sam, a carefree girl traveling to the west coast, whose words have a positive effect on young Denny. The story is told through Denny’s perspective, after he finds his abusive mother dead. Despite their blood ties, he only feels dread that he won’t be able to participate in the spelling bee. She always told him his studying for such a thing was a waste of time, that is was a pointless activity. He sets out to prove her wrong, and do something worthy of making his father proud.
Sitting here writing this review, I can still experience the emotional roller coaster when I think about what he went through from the very first page. The horror comes in subtle ways: in the realization that despite that he will never have to be demeaned by his mother’s words and inaction, her body is decomposing in the living room; the need to make his parents proud of something, anything; recognizing he can’t provide for the family dog but not wanting her to remain in the hot house, overheating and suffering herself; and when he finds his mother’s notebook, with her scrawls and terrible words…I wanted to save Denny from the rest of the story.
My emotions were all over the place reading this novella. At times I empathized with Denny, at others I was Denny. Lutzke is an expert craftsman at getting just the right emotional emphasis at the right time. I don’t know how he does it, but Lutzke is able to tap into that awkward part of childhood for those of us who never quite fit in, who experienced strained relationships at home, and who always tried their damnedest only to be batted off into the corner by a few of the adults in our lives. Highly recommended.
Contains: child neglect, some physical and olfactory description of rot
Reviewed by Lizzy Walker