Call Me Home
In the opening scene of Megan Kruse’s debut novel Call Me Home, a nine-year-old child makes her father the “perfect sandwich.” She takes bacon from the slaughtered family pig, slathers it with mayo and adds a helping of finely crushed glass. “My dad is the devil,” the girl, Lydia, says later in the book. Call Me Home is the narrative of Lydia, her mother, Amy, and her older brother, Jackson. Its point of view shifts among the three of them, giving an episodic perspective on abuse and its ramifications, both internal and external.
The father in this family is Gary, a controlling, check-the-odometer-before-you-leave kind of asshole. The family clings to rosier memories of their lives in Tulalip, Wash; Gary wasn’t always an abuser or manipulator. The narrator explains, “It had happened so slowly at first that it had taken Amy a while to notice.” Amy blames herself for Gary’s behavior, and Jackson often blames her, too: “Half of the time, Jackson wanted to kill his father. The other half he wanted to kill his mother—for fucking up.”
When the family splinters, Jackson hustles on the streets of Portland before eventually catching a Greyhound for Idaho. Kruse has said the novel began as a short story related to this section of the book, and Call Me Home has some of its best moments in the scenes of Jackson’s blue-collar life on a construction crew. Barroom and work-site banter mask a pervasive male loneliness: “Jackson had come to understand that this was how to talk to men—to pretend you weren’t talking at all.”
Young and gay, Jackson finds himself in a town even more remote than the soggy Washington forest where he grew up. The Idaho Panhandle offers, as Jackson recounts, a “bar for anyone,” before adding, ruefully, “except for two men who are fucking each other.” Jackson’s affair with his boss, his first meaningful romance, forms a central drama of the novel. Jackson is learning how to be with a man, but he’s also simply learning how to be.
Kruse’s writing is occasionally marred by weak or discordant metaphors (“peaches like globes of sunshine,” “the highway pulled us forward like a long rope,” “my father’s truck slid up like a shark”), but the dread of violence and the question of how the family will reunite, if at all, make for a compelling read.
While in Idaho, Jackson walks the bed of a diverted river and thinks to himself: “Wasn’t it a falsehood, to think you could just move an entire river, make a new lake, and everything would fall into place?” This scene recalls a moment in Scott Russell Sanders’ book Staying Put, when the writer says, upon returning to his native ground, itself since flooded by a dam, “You may love the place if you flourished there, or hate the place if you suffered there. But love it or hate it, you cannot shake free.” Call Me Home shows both family and landscape to be similarly navigable, even if tied to an inextricable past.