Sunday, March 13, 2011
The Turtle Catcher, by Nicole Helget
In a remote corner of Minnesota, shortly after The Great War, three sons of German immigrants force their slow-witted neighbor backwards into a lake. They train their rifle sights on him as he protests, flails, and eventually trudges backwards. They have sewn his pockets full with rocks. He violated their sister, they say, although two of them tremble to hold the rifles pointed at a man they previously knew as only gentle and dull.
The Turtle Catcher opens with this gripping and tragic encounter, and in so doing gives us a snapshot of each of the lives involved - the three brothers, the man wading into the pond, the sister sitting in shock and dismay at home. The scene concludes with horror and a bit of magic, leaving the reader anxious to know what happened to those complicated people.
Ms. Helget answers those questions by launching backwards in time about thirty years. The bulk of the book, about eighty percent, is an extended flashback detailing the lives of those characters and their families. This, unfortunately, has the effect of diluting quite a bit of the suspense, since from the very first chapter we know a great deal about the lives of those five individuals and their families. Fortunately the writing is good enough to keep the reader engaged and the descriptions of pre-war Minnesota and its immigrant German community are probably new territory for most readers. Personally, I would have preferred to know more about what happened to these characters after that evening at the lake, and how it affected them, but the story told is still thoughtful and memorable. I'd be interested to know if anyone else has read it and has thoughts - this is certainly a good book for discussion.