Crows Over a Wheatfield

Sharp, Paula. Crows Over a Wheatfield. New York: Washington Square Press, 1996.

Reason read: October is Domestic Abuse Awareness month in some states. In Massachusetts we run a 5k to benefit Safe Passage (although in December).

Picture a small town where barely anything of interest disrupts the landscape; no mountains, no oceans, no canyons, nor rivers. Nothing as far as the eye can see except farmland and fields. This is Wisconsin and Crows Over a Wheatfield is the thirty-year story of Melanie Klonecki, first growing up in such a small town, then becoming a judge in New York City and trying to escape memories of an abusive but brilliant criminal defense lawyer of a father (a “diabolical Atticus” as one of his colleagues described him). Told in four parts (Crows Over a Wheatfield, Muskellunge, Custody, & Mirror Universe) we begin Melanie’s recollection in the year 1957 when she was seven years old. Her 41 year old father has just remarried someone 17 years his junior. Ottilie comes to the family with a seven year old child of her own, Matthew. These outsiders are not immune to the abuse handed out by Joel Ratleer either.  His abuses come in many forms: subtle as in not being allowed to go to church or forcing Matthew to call his mother Ottilie, and violent in the form of severe beatings without provocation or warning. And yet, curiously, Melanie’s recollection of this abuse is fuzzy. She uses such phrases as, “must have bullied”, “no longer recall”, and “barely evoke any memory”. It’s as if she cannot face her terrible childhood with any clarity and as a result it clouds her entire adult life. When faced with another abusive situation Melanie is forced to “wake up” and take action. This time, as an adult, she is able to make choices. Her career as a judge hangs in the balance as she considers how far one would go to protect the ones they love.

I enjoyed the symbolism the wheatfield brought to the story. It is the portrayal of a descent into madness. Van Gogh’s painting is on the cover (and we all know his story). Czepeski (victim in Ratleer’s case) was the only farmer to grow a small patch of wheat not to harvest, but because “he liked to watch it move in the breeze” implying Czepeski was mad enough to kill his own children, implying it was not Ratleer’s defendant who outright admitted to it.

Lines I liked, “Uneasiness or wariness or fear blocked the way to my heart” (p 19) and “I could not remember the last time anyone, sane or insane, had looked inside me and unearthed anything there” (p 350). Probably the most telling line in the whole book.

Author fact: Sharp is also a practicing lawyer in New York.

Book trivia: a national bestseller.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest (Wisconsin)” (p 32).

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