It’s hard to describe just how moved I was in reading Martie Odell Ingebretsen’s wonderful novella, Sweet William. Perhaps heightened by the reality of current economic hardships throughout our country (as evidenced by the many friends and acquaintances who are struggling daily to support their families), Ingebretsen’s eloquent tale of a once-successful owner of a chain of thriving gas stations and loving family man who’s fallen from grace in the aftermath of tragedy is a stirring wake-up call to embrace and appreciate life, with all of its imperfections and disappointments. It’s also a stark reminder that in the blink of an eye, everything can come crashing down around you. One day, you might wake up to count yourself among the homeless after years of enjoying the fruits of your labor, surrounded by the ones you love.
Which is exactly where the protagonist William finds himself when the story begins.
When we first encounter William, it appears that this rugged but gentile man has resigned himself to his hard-scrapple fate, content with foraging for food in dumpsters, traveling in his mind to the beautiful faraway places depicted in books at the library, and living in his crude, cobbled-together “safe place”:
He kept the important small pieces of his life in the rat trap boards of his hidden safe place, covered with a piece of plastic. The plastic smelled slightly of cat pee and mildew. He had tried being a snail once. That’s what he called the ones who pushed shopping carts full of their belongings. He was uncomfortable with the burden of his life so obviously pushed in front of him. I’m a homeless snob, he thought, and then laughed hard and loud until his sides ached and he could no longer remember what had been so funny. His days were filled by the streets where he walked. Sometimes, if he walked with his head down, he would find things that he needed. He had found quarters and nickels for necessities, nails to hold together his rat trap abode, and pretty pieces of colored glass just to look at. Most of the time, he saw things he didn’t need, like dirty diapers, condoms, and smashed cigarettes.
But life has another curve ball to throw at William, one that will shake him out of his slumber and help him to embark upon the long journey back to emotional health, meaningful work and nurturing relationships:
He couldn’t remember being so scared, ever—even when he got the phone call about Samantha and Tim. Then, he wasn’t afraid. Instead, he was caught by something black and hard that pushed him down to someplace where he didn’t feel anything. The feeling of fear that he had now was prickly and sharp and changed the tempo of his pulse, made everything in his digestive track sour. Even his perspiration smelled corrupt.
Detective Jacobs came strolling back in. “Mr. Biggs,” he said as he handed William back the driver’s license he’d asked for hours before, the picture of a smiling William. “I’m sorry to have detained you for so long. The child said you’re not the perp.”
William took the license and looked at it. (He’d kept it in the hope of one day owning a car again, a car that would take him as far as his dreams.)
“You understand,” the detective continued, “it’s important that we check out every story. You’re free to go now.” He got up, and then as if in afterthought asked,
“Do you need a ride?”
“I’m not under arrest? I can go now?” William could hardly believe it. He had seen his life move from giant sequoias to years in jail in a couple of hours. He had never felt so free.
Thus acquitted of the charge of child molestation, William finds the courage to face his demons in order to reclaim his proper place in his community. He learns to accept the assistance from those around him who truly have his best interests at heart, including the town’s local hairdresser, whose history with William is intertwined with the ghosts of the past and the tragedies that instigated his downward spiral into alcoholism and ultimately, homelessness. As the story progresses, William also comes to terms with his romantic feelings for her, which paralyzing guilt had previous rendered impossible.
Written in an engaging style, Sweet William’s descriptive narrative and authentic characters weave a compelling tale of love, redemption, heartache, forgiveness and triumph. The author’s effective use of poetry — which leads off each chapter as a means of previewing its meaning and purpose — lends a melodious rhythm and irresistible charm to the story. Although just 53 pages, Sweet William makes a powerful emotional impact.
But its author hopes to do much more. According to Buddhapuss Ink, LLC:
Because the protagonist–a guy who might be your neighbor, cousin, or friend–shows how we are all just one crisis away from homelessness, Buddhapuss Ink LLC will donate 10% of the profits from Sweet William for the first year’s sales, to the Coalition for the Homeless. The coalition works with homeless men, women and families, including those affected by recent Superstorm Sandy which devastated our area in October.
Sweet William will be available for purchase on March 12. Look for a feature of author Martie Odell Ingebretsen on the blog in the coming weeks, as well as an interview on the Writestream Radio Network. Stay tuned for details!