The Brothers' Keepers
The Brothers' Keepers is a collaborative work written by John H. Paddison and Charles D. Orvik. Based on the book's tone, theme, and literary intention, this work will prove to be a significant contribution to contemporary literature. As a novel dealing with the saga of one family, the work closely analyzes an ongoing cultural myth of small Midwest American towns and families-that is, the idea and ideal of family values that have come to symbolize that geographic region. The story takes place in the Northeastern part of North Dakota, in the fictional town of Farmington, during and after the Great Depression. The storyline develops around the neglect and then abandonment of five young boys-the Lambson brothers-by their alcoholic mother and their drifter father, and indeed by society in general. Having been exhaustively researched, the novel details in a sensitive yet realistic way the brothers' development under very adverse physical and social conditions and the five boys' eventual outcome. The brothers' hardships form a strong, familial bond between them-the only definition of family that they can construct from their aberrant circumstances. Events of the story are structured so as to extract meaning from the youngsters' trials. The broader narrative, though, becomes an attempt to understand how a society that traditionally has always placed so much emphasis on family and family values, at least seemingly so, can condone such treatment of the five youngsters. The narrative voice is sensitive yet forceful in adding understanding of their tribulations, thus bringing light to two social ills that plague America today-child neglect and child abuse. In a larger sense, this probing of social responsibility is relevant to today's society, where children increasingly becoming the victims of abuse and neglect.
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The Brothers’ Keepers
A Professor and Attorney team up to write a social issue novel about child abuse and neglect situated in 1930’s-1940’s North Dakota—and reveal the ongoing weaknesses in the “traditional” institutions chartered to help our children.
Publisher: Amazon Create Space
ISBN: 1453692010 / 9781453692011
Reviewed by Jeffrey Ross, Central Arizona College
Let me assure you—there are no vampires or wise old hoary-headed wizards in this darkling text. Even so, plenty of malevolent forces, most undeterred, “slither” through its pages.
Authors Paddison (a retired English professor) and Orvik (a retired attorney) use the obliquely-twisted yet flat landscape of 30’s and 40’s era North Dakota as the backdrop for portraying the systematic de-evolution of a family. TBK painfully illustrates the outcomes of child abuse and child neglect—the five Lambson brothers characterized in the book all suffer physically, psychologically, and spiritually from the life handed to them by several “keepers”—their inadequate parents, the public school system, church and government welfare agencies, foster homes, and, as they unstoppably mature, even their painful and debilitating memories.
The authors clearly demonstrate their knowledge of North Dakotan topography, the agricultural industry, traditional Midwestern ethos, and time period-appropriate political and socio-economic events. Few sermonizing or editorial asides detract from the novel’s ongoing narrative praxis—the boys, neglected from early childhood by a womanizing, wandering father and a dissolute, hard-drinking mother, have never learned to behave within acceptable social norms. Clambering and foraging, always moving, always hungry, always cold, always in mischief, playing with matches, guns, and perpetually suffering physical injuries, they generate legions of problems for themselves and the community that reaches out to them with only the most facile of “supportive” gestures.
Paddison and Orvik are institution “iconoclasts.” The tone, the descriptive context, the atmosphere of TBK is a mixture of Upton Sinclair’s harsh naturalistic descriptive power—and Sherwood Anderson’s detail-rich view of small Midwestern towns. Typical traditional “helping” institutions exist in TBK—the apparently happy American family, the local church Lady’s Aid Society, the Lutheran Welfare Society, the Home for Wayward youth, Christian Foster Care Homes—but none seek to make an honest, or morally sincere, commitment to the well-being of the Lambson children.
Paddison and Orvik, in their fictionalized yet eerily peripatetic account of the North Dakota communities, construct a kind of uncomfortable realism. The authors effectively illustrate the bureaucratic dilemmas, weaknesses, and tabled-decision making faced by both private and governmental agencies [whose apparent mission is to help children such as the brothers]. The book is filled with constant reports, evaluations, re-evaluations, records reviews, and obtuse explanations ----- filed by agencies, both private and governmental, that have somehow become involved in the Lambson family situation and struggle to make any positive, substantial change in the boys’ lives...
Attorney Orvik’s past experiences working with child abuse cases helps to certify much of the behavioral contexts (both by the Lambson boys AND the agencies who cannot help them).
Yes, Professor Paddison and Barrister Ovik can be literary. The harsh north wind, harbinger of the high plains winter—is kept just at bay. The recurring images of fire hint at both danger and purification. The rich farmland situates a stark stage for the starved lives of the five siblings.
One of my favorite “components” of the text involves the inclusion of numerous letters written from foster families to the Lutheran Welfare Society. The epistles, which comment on the boys’ continued disobedient and erratic behaviors, and typically summarize the