“Thorn-Field” by James Trettwer
In his debut collection, “Thorn-Field,” James Trettwer elucidates the complexity of outwardly simple characters living in a small mining town.
Composed of nine short stories, Trettwer instantly challenges the reader to empathize, understand and relate to the characters.
The opening and most fascinating story, “Treading Through Thorn-Fields,” exposes the intricacies of trauma and addiction. Little does the reader know, each story – as well as the characters – has a similar direction. Lourdes, a young woman who escaped her drug-addicted mother, lives and works at a motel. After the accidental and tragic death of her father, her mother Edna is all but lost to addiction as a coping mechanism. Only years later, Lourdes is a teenager and pregnant. Tragedy occurs again and Lourdes loses her nearly full-term baby. Her trauma begins to manifest in dreams of a place that binds her, a prisoner to her own trauma, where she hears the cries of her unborn daughter. Her need for control is revealed through exercise, journaling, poetry, work and academia – and most curiously, out-of-body experiences.
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“Treading Through Thorn-Fields,” like the other short stories in the collection, offers no resolve. This is perhaps the most intriguing and powerful aspect of Trettwer’s writing. He does not offer answers or tie the ends of the stories with a pretty bow. It is simply a cast of characters living their lives, dealing with their own versions of trauma, pain and attempting to find who they are.
In some cases, the characters are physically losing themselves either through dementia, mental illness or age; while others fade into addiction, emotional suffering, or uncontrollable circumstance. Some make it out of the mining town whereas others cannot bring themselves to leave what they have always known.
There is a common thread throughout the collection, not just by setting but more importantly through the poignant sense of utter loneliness and the persistent journey to find one’s self.
Charity Dewing is the senior editor of Special Section publications at the Billings Gazette and an adjunct professor at Montana State University Billings.