A storm is brewing in the all-but-forgotten backcountry of Kentucky. And, for Orbie Ray, the swirling heavens may just have the power to tear open his family’s darkest secrets. Then Like The Blind Man: Orbie’s Story is the enthralling debut novel by Freddie Owens, which tells the story of a feisty wunderkind in the segregated South of the 1950s, and the forces he must overcome to restore order in his world. Evocative of a time and place long past, this absorbing work of magical realism offered with a Southern twist will engage readers who relish the Southern literary canon, or any tale well told.
Nine-year-old Orbie has his cross to bear. After the death of his father, his mother Ruby has off and married his father’s coworker and friend Victor, a slick-talking man with a snake tattoo. Now, Orbie, his sister Missy, and his mother haven’t had a peaceful moment with the heavy-drinking new man of the house. Orbie hates his stepfather more than he can stand; a fact that lands him at his grandparents’ place in Harlan’s Crossroads, Kentucky.
Orbie grudgingly adjusts to life with his doting Granny and carping Granpaw, who are a bit too keen on their black neighbors for Orbie’s taste, not to mention their Pentecostal congregation of snake handlers. And, when he meets the black Choctaw preacher, Moses Mashbone, he learns of powers that could expose his father’s murderer. As a storm of unusual magnitude descends, Orbie happens upon the solution to a paradox at once magical and quite ordinary. But will it be enough?
Equal parts Hamlet and Huckleberry Finn, it’s a tale that’s rich in meaning, socially relevant, and rollicking with boyhood adventure. The novel mines crucial contemporary issues, as well as the universality of the human experience while also casting a beguiling light on boyhood dreams and fears. It’s a well-spun, nuanced work of fiction that is certain to resonate with lovers of literary fiction, particularly in the grand Southern tradition of storytelling.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY WRITES:
In an American coming-of-age novel, the author presents a stunning story with clarity and historical accuracy, rich in illuminating the Appalachian culture of the time period. It is 1959 and Orbie, aged 9, is forced to spend the summer with his grandparents in Harlan, Kentucky, rather than travel to St. Petersburg, Florida, with his mother, sister, and step-father Victor. Instead he will live in a two-room cabin with his share-cropping grandparents, no friends, and nothing to do. Such is the set-up of the story of a young boy from Detroit who learns about racial tolerance, religion, and the meaning of betrayal and love. As the summer progresses there are flashbacks to Obie’s tragedy, pain, and misunderstanding that help to illuminate the reasons for his fears and uncertainties. The reader learns these lessons with Orbie, gaining knowledge and understanding of the segregated South. This story educates and brings history alive, depicting American union labor practices and the racial prejudices that were so prevalent in the 1950’s.
ABNA Publisher’s Weekly Reviewer
THE MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW WRITES:
The weight of the world was never meant for the young. "Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie's Story" tells the story of nine year old Orbie as the death of his father pushes him off from his mother as she marries a man he can't get along with. Living with his grandparents, Orbie learns much of the world, his parents, and faith. With much of faith and learning, "Then Like the Blind Man" is a strong addition to general fiction collections with a focus on coming of age tales.
KINDLE NATION WRITES:
Reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, this "sensitive and gripping" coming-of age story evokes backcountry Kentucky in the troubled 1950's in prose that's spare yet lyrical -- a "special" novel worthy of joining the ranks of an illustrious Southern literary tradition.