I’d like to introduce you to Mark Pomeroy, a former teacher and debut novelist from Portland who has been writing short stories, essays and poems for some time. His new work of long-form fiction, “The Brightwood Stillness,” is a complicated look at friendship, family, cross-cultural communication, education and male identity.
This novel, set in 1996, tells the stories of Hieu Nguyen and Nate Davis. They have taught in the same inner city high school in Portland for a decade, forging a close friendship over racquetball games and the frustrations of their shared profession. Furthermore, Nate has been romantically involved with Hieu’s sister, Lang, for several years.
But the wheels begin to fall off the cart at the end of that year.
Nate returns to work just a week after being knifed in the school parking lot by a former student.
Upon his return he learns that Hieu has been accused of sexual misconduct by a couple of students and been placed on leave while the case is being investigated.
Meanwhile the romance between Nate and Lang frays as he resists a permanent commitment.
The recent assault has clobbered Nate’s self-confidence. He realizes that the last time he felt any true sense of security and belonging was when he was growing in a household composed of himself, his single mom (who had given birth to him as an unwed teen), his grandpa and his boisterous Uncle Sammy.
But once Sammy left to fight in Vietnam, things were never the same. Nate’s uncle survived the war, apparently, but remained in Asia and fell out of touch.
All these years later, Nate decides to take some time off from work, not only to let his physical wounds heal but also to address some old psychic wounds by embarking on a quest to find his long-lost uncle.
This comes at a terrible time for Hieu, who could use his friend’s support. And Hieu feels further betrayed when he learns that Nate’s testimony regarding the sexual misconduct case, given to the cops shortly before he departed on his trip, actually casts some doubt on Hieu’s innocence.
At home, Hieu’s wife, kids and widowed mother have been mortified by the charges leveled against him and the accompanying loss of face. They keep their distance.
This tale of parallel identity crises is a finely calibrated work of battles both internal and external. In exploring the underlying incidents that lead up to the present difficult crossroads, Pomeroy shows his characters as they peel away layers of self-deception. Long-suppressed memories and festering wrongs add to the complex story. While some of the revelations are unsavory or even revolting, the novel maintains a standard of compassion and careworn dignity.
“The Brightwood Stillness” is about choices, consequences and collateral damage. Yet even in its unflinching depiction of sorry aftermaths, it suggests a muted optimism and sketches a humble path of duties and reflections that might lead to finding one’s way.
This novel is perceptive and humane – I recommend it.