Of Foster Homes and Flies is a Pandora’s Box of emotions; love, loss, despair, fear, abuse, hope, desire and transformation. Once you lift that lid (or cover in this situation) you can’t put those feelings back, however hard you try!
It’s a book that explores the darkness of growing up in a house devoid of love and support. Where happiness and belonging are just words to learn how to spell. Lutzke has been able to craft a beautifully soul destroying book that is as you would expect written with his masterful prose magic, that, combined with this achingly pure story makes this journey one to be remembered and savoured.
A couple of the lines I loved in this book, although there are too many to quote are;
‘…no social workers taking me by the hand, spewing forth some half-sincere sympathy before I’m another file tucked away in a deep cabinet of forgotten children.’
‘Though truly, the woman who gave birth to me died a long time ago. I’ve had years to mourn the loss.’
The story centres around Denny a young boy in the sixth grade. He wakes one morning to find his abusive, neglectful and drunk of a mother dead, but instead of reporting her death he learns to live with the secret and the stench until he’s done something he’ll be proud of, because you see he’s an upcoming spelling bee that he needs to win, more to prove something to himself than anyone else.
His mother you see used to tell him it was a waste of time, reading, spelling pretty much everything that he ever did… that he’d amount to nothing so why bother trying. But right now, in the stench of his house he’s determined to prove her wrong and make something of himself, and it starts with winning the spelling bee and wild horses couldn’t tear him away from that showdown.
Of Foster Homes and Flies is a deeply rich and beguiling coming of age story, one that pulls no punches and shows a life of hardship and abuse under the microscope. But it’s deftly put across by Lutzke with much of the abuse inferred, we don’t see it, which I was grateful of, we learn of it in crisp and unsettling prose.
The prose the Lutzke delivers is heartbreakingly pure and shows one boys struggle against the oppressive forces in his life, a life full of struggle and heartache, of freeing the dreams and aspirations that have been choked of life from his abusive and overbearing mother.
Her death has meant her grip on his life has been loosened and he is free to break free and make something of himself. I also loved the chance meeting with Sam that adds a much needed warmth to this story of survival.
The introduction of Sam propels Denny in a new direction, he’s able to see a world of possibilities instead of a world of hurt and pain and suffering, a place where belittlement which he’s suffered for years just becomes a word that would win any high school spelling bee. A place where you can chase your dreams without the fear of being pulled down or a closed fist finding your flesh.
There was one scene in particular and only four words in the scene that broke something within me. There is a part of the book (and we’ve journeyed with Denny by this point – if you’ve read it you’ll know) and he begins to read his mother’s notebook – boy I blubbered at that point. Four words form Lutzke’ some brought me to tears and made my heart ache – because I know that there are possibly people where this is their life, their circumstance and Lutzke has rendered this astonishingly well.
Of Foster Homes and Flies might just be my favourite coming of age story I’ve ever read, deeply moving, arrestingly pure and utterly unmissable. Lutzke staggered me like a punch to the face and a kick to the stomach with this offering – powerful, powerful stuff, highly recommended.
Of Foster Homes and Flies is available here.
Chad has written for Famous Monsters of Filmland, Rue Morgue, Cemetery Dance, and Scream magazine. He’s had dozens of short stories published, and some of his books include: OF FOSTER HOMES & FLIES, STIRRING THE SHEETS, SKULLFACE BOY, THE SAME DEEP WATER AS YOU, THE PALE WHITE, THE NEON OWL and OUT BEHIND THE BARN co-written with John Boden. Lutzke’s work has been praised by authors Jack Ketchum, Richard Chizmar, Joe Lansdale, Stephen Graham Jones, Elizabeth Massie and his own mother.
He can be found lurking the internet at www.chadlutzke.com
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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