- Barb Randall
Malheur means "bad time," and Lake Oswego resident Nancy Judd Minor plays that notion skillfully in her debut novel "Malheur August," released Oct. 15.
"I grew up in Vale," she said. "It's as far east as you can go and still be in Oregon. The area sticks in your blood; its high desert, harsh country but it's beautiful."
Minor knows the landscape, fishing holes the dangerous parts of the river and the spots where teens go to break the rules. And she knows the people of the region, too.
"It's a story from my youth," she said.
Minor graduated from Coos Bay High School and Brigham Young University. She taught English at Westview High School and education courses at Lewis & Clark College. When she retired she focused on writing the book which had been on her mind for years.
A synopsis of "Malheur August" reads:
"Minor's protagonist, Jean Algood, spends her last home-from-college summer questioning her parents' friends and neighbors about what Clete and Oleta had been like at her age, and about what had gone wrong — what had embittered her father and hollowed out her mother in the years before she was born. The questioning is triggered by a photograph Jean and her cousin find when they venture into the ramshackle hut of the town's recently deceased old hermit. Who was the hermit? Why did he keep a Kodak image of young Clete Algood in an empty coffee can in his shack? Who was the beautiful girl standing next to Clete in the photo, the one with the too-familiar eyes? The mannish woman in the photo, they remembered from another Kodak back home. It was Clete's twin sister, Cloris, who hasn't been seen in Malheur County since 1946.
"The plot thickens as they try to identify the hermit. Sweetens as their mother's old friend recounts parts of Oleta's story. Sours when Clete's tractor overturns. Thickens again when Aunt Opal — Clete's uber-bossy Mormon sister — manages to contact Cloris. And then quietly explodes.
"This is a recovery tale, beautifully fragmented and waiting to be stitched back together into the crazy quilt which was "this American life" 50 or 75 years ago. Its spot on about mid-20th century rural life: It's full of affection and humor and dread. It's replete with rodeos and kittens, seductions and pregnancies, apple pies and accidental deaths and half-hearted heroism. It's loaded with secrets and their keepers."
Minor will hold a book reading and signing event at Annie Bloom's from 7 to 9 p.m. Jan. 10, 2019. Learn more on her website nancyjuddminor.com.