As always I am currently working on two novels. One is probably the darkest novel I have ever written, and the other is a coming-of-age novel which has more humor in it than any book I have written. I’m about thirty thousand words into the coming-of-age novel, and I still do not have the opening right. I have rewritten the opening four different times in four different ways from four different points-of-views and starting in four different places. It is one of those books that may never see a publishers desk, but sometimes you write things just for your own amusement. Below is my fifth attempt at an opening.
In 1962, Bon Homme wasn’t much different from most small South Dakota towns of that time, except for the eight-foot granite muskrat statue that greeted everyone coming into town from the west. The statue had been there for as long as anyone could remember. Nobody could say for sure where it had come from or why it stood guarding the west entrance to town. The oldest residence of Bon Homme, Seth Robinson, thought he remembered his grandfather saying something about the statue having been commissioned by either President Pierce or Buchanan, but he couldn’t remember which one or why. Zeke Johnson, Seth’s roommate at the Sisters of the Cross Nursing Home, was adamant that giant muskrat-looking aliens had once ruled over Bon Homme, and they’d left the statue as a reminder that one day they would be back to again enslave the good people of the town. Zeke also believed tapioca pudding was a mind-control substance invented by the government, and the nurses at the home often found him in the mornings buck naked in the aviary, flapping his arms and crowing like a rooster to attract the female finches, so nobody paid much attention to his theory.
Twice every year, homecoming and prom, the Bon Homme High School Senior Class would make a run at defacing the statue: a red clown’s nose, painted on genitalia, Mickey Mouse ears taped to the head …. Every time it happened, Bon Homme’s street department, Matt Bailey, would dutifully clean it up, because an eight-foot muskrat statue might be ridiculous, but by golly it was their eight-foot ridiculous muskrat statue. In a town of less than a thousand people, you grabbed whatever uniqueness you could find and clung to it. The high school’s nickname was the muskrats and the second weekend in July they celebrated Muskrat Days in Bon Homme. They had muskrat races, muskrat tossing contests, muskrat bingo, muskrat sculptures carved out of butter and the merchants gave away free hot dogs–they called them musk dogs. People came from as far away as Yankton, and for those two days the town tripled in size … until they ran out of hot dogs.
Other than Muskrat Days there wasn’t much to do in Bon Homme. The bars and churches were the only social clubs. Some people belonged to both clubs, even the Baptists—if two Baptists ended up in the bar at the same time, they had an unspoken agreement to pretend they were invisible.
The churches played an important role in the town. Many people thought of God and the church as interchangeable. Some put the church above God. Some even made the church their substitute for God, or at least that’s what Donnie Hanson’s father said on the way home from church one Sunday as he gave his usual after-the-sermon sermon and told the family how wrong the minister was about everything. Donnie’s father had considered being a minister at one time. Donnie thought he would have been a good one, because he knew a lot about the Bible—except he used a lot of swear words, especially the F-word. It would have made for an interesting job interview with some church deacon board, Donnie thought, but probably not a successful one.
Donnie liked living in Bon Homme, giant muskrat and all. He’d lived there his entire thirteen years of life so he had nothing else to compare it to. He could have been living in Hell, and he wouldn’t have known the difference. But there was always plenty for kids to do in Bon Homme. They had their own social clubs, but not the churches—churches were places parents made you go.
The girls used the bandstand in Main Street Park as their social club. They played jacks in the afternoons, talked about boys and did whatever adolescent girls do—Donnie didn’t know and didn’t want to know. The boys had Hoch’s Creek.
Hoch’s Creek flowed about a mile west of Bon Homme snaking its way to the Missouri River. It provided a daytime gathering spot for the boys in town. They went there with the pretense of fishing, but it was a boy’s club where they played army, hunted frogs and turtles, fished and even camped out when the begging got so bad that the parents relented just to stop the whining.