This collection, entitled Where the Cottonwoods Grow, is built around the theme of family. Whether it is a good one or bad one, every person has a family of some form. In these stories I explore the familial role through such questions as: How and why do we struggle under and perpetuate the deeds of our ancestors? Must the children always pay for the sins of the father? What impact do class and geography have on the family unit? Can sibling relationships fill the void left by broken parental relationships, and on the flip side, can a child learn love from parents who themselves have difficulty loving each other? While each of the stories will deal with the general theme of family in different ways, as a whole they come together to show the human progression through family life—beginning with the child who is trying to understand the dynamics of the adult family members and her place within them, to the teenagers challenging parental authority in their journey towards adulthood, to the young adult who finds she still has much to learn about mature adult relationships and her own parents, to finally the married couple who find themselves questioning everything about each other and the family they have formed.
The Show in the Gray Oldsmobile is told in the first person voice of Sarah, a twelve-year-old girl who is sheltered and coddled by her overprotective mother because of her perceived physical weakness—a kidney transplant. Sarah’s platonic relationship with her brother, Martin, who has shared in her physical trauma, contrasts their strict and conservative parents who seem incapable of modeling healthy family relationships. In Burnt Holes in a Blanket, the reader sees through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old into the disruption and bitterness alcohol abuse can sew within a family, especially when it afflicts that family’s lone remaining patriarch. In Best Daughter, a seventeen-year-old is forced to live with the mother she has never known after the death of her beloved father and to deal with the mixed emotions she has for both her parents. In One Step Ahead of the Dark, a twenty-something college student is at a crossroads in her relationships with her live-in boyfriend, Charlie, and with her parents, especially with her overbearing mother. She is forced to see the value in her boyfriend through her parents’ eyes, especially as the dynamic between her and her mother is brought to a new level. Where the Cottonwoods Grow is an examination of a husband-wife relationship over nearly twenty years. Time, children, and unfulfilled promises chip away at their relationship. While it is written in third person, the only story in the collection that is, the narrative focuses on the wife, Mary Jane, who questions the last two decades of her life. Her doubts hinge on one fundamental question—should she have married this man who has failed to give her the life she longs for? The title, which also serves as the title of the collection, represents an idealized home and family setting that may never be possible, or at least not as the various characters in these stories expect it to be.