Bridging the American Islands

| 16 Feb 2022 | 03:42

James Hime is an Arkansas-born, sometime-New Yorker and currently world-traveled Texan whose first book, “The Night of The Dance,” was nominated for a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award. His second and third books, “Scared Money” and “Where Armadillos Go to Die,” drew equally glowing reviews as they trace the path carved out by Rime’s protagonist, former Texas Ranger Jeremiah spur. The writing is tight. The plots are intricate. And each novel ends with the sort of twist that leaves mystery fans smiling like Cheshire cats.

Hime’s fourth book, “Three Thousand Bridges,” is a different story.

Once again, the writing is tight and the characters clear, but unlike the first three, written by a meticulous craftsman in command of his plot, “Bridges” is written as if by a man running for his life. Which is not far off what actually happened. On 9/11, Hime was in the Twin Towers, an experience he translates into a searing tale of one man’s search for his son gone missing in New York on that awful day still familiar to us all.

Page by page, practically sentence by sentence, following the protagonist Cole Simms’ journey from Texas to the Towers, makes it painfully clear that right now, and perhaps forever, we are two countries, shaped by three islands. The first two, Ellis on the East and Angel on the West, created “elite” places like Manhattan where we “lose” our neighborhoods, communities and even our cities every 30 or 40 years as new immigrants arrive, enriching our experience with their bodies, their culture, and best of all, their food.

The third island is the one missing from what East and West Coast sophisticates insultingly dismiss as flyover country. Lacking a continuing coastal stream of new faces, for longer than seems possible, the landlocked center stayed static, pretty much white and Christian. But now, the inevitable appearance of strange faces and the disappearance of solid blue-collar jobs as corporations consolidate and move production far offshore has raised the fear of losing not just the neighborhood but the country as well, a fear that empowers “leaders” who, when the curtain drops, despise their flock.

In all his books, Hime’s Texans speak and act in ways unfamiliar to those of us in the Five Boroughs. In “Bridges” the difference is so pronounced that opening the book is like parachuting into a foreign country without having learned the language. But Hime provides a dictionary as his hero, Cole Simms, crosses state lines traveling from Texas to New York on a quest whose ending he dreads.

The people he meets and the conversations they share track evolving views of the country. Reaching Manhattan, and what remains of the Twin Towers to hear the news he had feared, Cole meets a fellow survivor from an earlier disaster, Vietnam, who, like Cole, has lost his son at Ground Zero. Comparing shared experience, Cole joins the crews working on The Pile, staying “in that place until the morning they carried the last steel girder out on a flatbed truck.”

Hime, who clearly knows both his countries, captures their duality perfectly in Bridges, using fiction to show us the way to unity. Now, as he prepares to write again, bringing Cole into our current politics, it is long past time to join him to bridge the gap between our islands.

Readers will enjoy the first three Himes books.

They and the country need the fourth.