The Pull by Bobby Jack Nelson (St. Martin's: $15.95)
Bobby Jack Nelson's third novel, "The Pull," is a classic example of the Bildungsroman : a young person coming of age in the midst of hard times, difficult choices, internal pressures and all of nature closing in fast.
This kind of novel has attracted strong literary voices throughout the world, but it seems to have particularly flourished in the hands of American writers such as Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Carson McCullers and Saul Bellow, each of whom has had at least one memorable go at the form. As diverse as these writers are, and as different as Nelson is from them, they have at their core--and the American Bildungsroman has as its armature--the element of regionalism which, in its very specificity, becomes universal and compelling.
An Elemental Theme
Focusing on Bud, a poor country boy just shy of 15, who has been taken from a comfortable if uneventful life by his true father, Sailor, years before, Nelson introduces a traditional set of characters to play out his elemental theme. To complete his virtuoso performance, he adds another traditional element--a contest--that gives this novel its title, subtext and reason for being. He does this with seemingly effortless grace, materially assisted by lean prose that, in its directness, becomes revelatory and absorbing. Nelson has flirted with cliche in a contest of his own and he has won; he has taken on the ordinary and by besting it has produced surprise.