Wrecker is set in a remote region of California, the Mattole Valley, also known as the Lost Coast region, near Cape Mendocino. Within that region, the novel explores a particular subset of residents, all of whom came to the Mattole from elsewhere, all wounded in one way or another: Melody, a daughter estranged from an affluent father; Willow, a mother who left her children after a car accident in which one was permanently injured; Ruth, a woman whose partner died and who attempted suicide while holding a box of her ashes; and Johnny Appleseed, a somewhat mysterious figure who is described as “some hybrid form of plant and animal” (39). This foursome inhabits Bow Farm, a kind of commune some miles from town, and support themselves in various ways, from working at the town store to repairing fine carpets to reseeding logged-over land.
The story centers around the eponymous main character, a child named Wrecker, who first enters the life of Bow Farm when his mother is imprisoned following an armed robbery and he is sent to live with his Uncle Len and Aunt Meg, who live near Bow Farm. His aunt is incapacitated through illness, and his uncle, unable to care for a three-year-old, takes him to Bow Farm, where he is eventually accepted and becomes the keystone of a small, improvised family. The novel proceeds in sections headed by Wrecker’s age—“Three,” “Eight,” “Thirteen,” “Eighteen,” and “Twenty”—as it follows the ways in which the angry and fearful young boy becomes the means through which each of the characters finds healing.
While the landscape is described lovingly, the novel barely touches on the larger issues of the region. Perhaps because it is set between the years 1965 and 1985, the cultivation of marijuana is barely mentioned. Fights over old growth forests and logging, including the practice of tree spiking, are invoked, but never deeply explored.
Instead, the novel concentrates on character. The eventual revelation of each character’s secrets seem somewhat contrived, and the final reunion scene with Wrecker’s biological mother—freed from prison and having found peace through two years in an ashram—is predictable. However, the novel succeeds in portraying a time, place, and way of life that may be gone now. Its characters create their lives within that context, having abandoned ordinary social roles, choosing to come together to nurture and love a child. [End Page 330]