Sonny Brewer returns to Fairhope, Alabama, the setting for his praiseworthy debut The Poet of Tolstoy Park, with a lyrical new novel. In A Sound Like Thunder, protagonist Rove MacNee navigates through memoir and memory, recalling his youth on the eve of World War II. Passionate about cast-net-fishing, sailing and books by Emerson, Twain and Whitman 16-year-old Rove finds himself overwhelmed by problems in late 1941. First, he is worried about his parents who were playing out their unhappiness in different ways. He can barely tolerate his father, Capt. Dominus MacNee, a whiskey besotted merchant sailor. And Rove's mother has also changed: Now intolerant of her husband and struggling to communicate with her family, Lillian MacNee seems lately to prefer the companionship of a German immigrant, Joseph Unruh. As the adult triangle approaches a tragic crisis, Rove becomes involved with Anna Pearl Anderson, the prettiest girl on the Eastern shore, who could quicken his pulse with the least of her antics and attention. Rove soon believes that he must distance himself from the emotional maelstrom of life in not-so-bucolic Fairhope, and he turns to the Sea Bird, his 25-foot sloop, which offers him the enthralling possibility of a life of Emersonian self-reliance. But, as Rove will learn, especially through his new friendship with the sagacious artist Walter Anderson, a teenager cannot simply sail away from his problems until he has faced certain startling truths. Self-reliance, in fact, may be more complicated and may require more introspection and maturity than Rove had anticipated.
Like Faulkner's agonistic families, O'Connor's anxious adolescents and Welty's guileless innocents, Brewer's characters in the compelling A Sound Like Thunder invite readers to meditate upon the challenges of learning to live and love those universal terrors of the heart. Tim Davis teaches English at the University of West Florida.