Ben Stempton's Boy by Ron Yates
The year is 1972, and Randy Walls is fresh out of the foster care system. Haunted by memories of sexual abuse, he hitchhikes from Pittsburgh to rural Georgia in search of a blood relation. His quest for family is fulfilled in unexpected ways after he makes a deal with Ben Stempton, a grizzled old pulp-wooder. Through events that follow, Randy experiences culture shock, hard labor, funerals, friendship, extramarital sex, and jealousy.
When old man Stempton dies in a gruesome accident, Randy shoulders the burden of the man’s business for the sake of his wife and daughter. Episodes unfold, and Randy finds himself holding a baby. Little Benji’s mother is Ben Stempton’s daughter, Stacy. Unfortunately, she is married to Randy’s rival, an abusive redneck named Ty. More tragedy follows, resulting in Stacy’s emotional breakdown.
By this time Randy has grown close to his work partner Buster, a light-skinned black youth of uncertain parentage who anchors and guides him. These two plus Benji form an unlikely trio, struggling against vines from the past and present that are as constricting as kudzu—twisted stalks sprouting from society’s soil, Ben Stempton’s grave, and their own personal histories. Breaking free will require drastic measures and the formation of new bonds rooted in love.
Publication Date:October 8, 2019
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Yates opens with a hitchhiker arriving in rural Georgia in search of his only known relative who, it turns out, has already passed. An old man carrying a load of timber gives him a lift, a shack to stay in, and a job clearing land. Day by day, what begins as a temporary respite becomes a place to call home. People and events take hold the way kudzu does as, through the lens of this newcomer from the North, we’re shown the South and her people as they really are: rough yet gentle, loud as firecrackers yet quiet as pine needles, standoffish yet generous. The plot advances easily as if cruising a small town, then it swings out for a tour of the countryside, pulling off for a closer look at a rutted path, then at just the right time it accelerates because believe it or not sometimes the South is in a hurry.
No, I will not give too much away. No spoilers here. Except to promise that Yates shows you the South most never see, and does so with no clichés, just gritty truth. His writing voice is honest and familiar, perfect for probing the complexities of a small dot of a place below the Mason-Dixon line.
Ben Stempton’s Boy is a great fit for hammock-minded stories lovers located the world over.
You’ll want two copies. One for the beach, boat, or book club, and another to share with your friends.
-- Tim Bryant, SOUTH CAROLINA WRITERS ASSOCIATION
A moving family tale as touching as it is historically perceptive. --KIRKUS REVIEWS
In this powerful and insightful novel about what constitutes a family, Ron Yates manages somehow to write with real heart even as he holds back none of the hard-bitten harshness of this world of rural Georgia in the 70s—a world he has filled with unforgettable characters. Ben Stempton’s Boy is the kind of book one can lose oneself to for days. --Naeem Murr, author of The Perfect Man, winner of The Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book in Europe and South Asia 2007