Friday, March 21, 2014

Review: Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie's Story by Freddie Owens

Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie’s Story

Freddie Owens

Publisher: Blind Sight Publications
Pages: 332
Language: English
Genre: Historical Fiction/Coming of Age
Format: Paperback & eBook


A storm is brewing in the all-but-forgotten backcountry of Kentucky. And, for young Orbie Ray, the swirling heavens may just have the power to tear open his family’s darkest secrets. Then Like The Blind Man: Orbie’s Story is the enthralling debut novel by Freddie Owens, which tells the story of a spirited wunderkind in the segregated South of the 1950s and the forces he must overcome to restore order in his world. Rich in authentic vernacular and evocative of a time and place long past, this absorbing work of magical realism offered up with a Southern twist will engage readers who relish the Southern literary canon, or any tale well told.

Nine-year-old Orbie already has his cross to bear. After the sudden death of his father, his mother Ruby has off and married his father’s coworker and friend Victor, a slick-talking man with a snake tattoo. Since the marriage, Orbie, his sister Missy, and his mother haven’t had a peaceful moment with the heavy-drinking, fitful new man of the house. Orbie hates his stepfather more than he can stand; this fact lands him at his grandparents’ place in Harlan’s Crossroads, Kentucky, when Victor decides to move the family to Florida without including him. In his new surroundings, Orbie finds little to distract him from Granpaw’s ornery ways and constant teasing jokes about snakes.

As Orbie grudgingly adjusts to life with his doting Granny and carping Granpaw, who are a bit too keen on their black neighbors for Orbie’s taste, not to mention their Pentecostal congregation of snake handlers, he finds his world views changing, particularly when it comes to matters of race, religion, and the true cause of his father’s death. He befriends a boy named Willis, who shares his love of art, but not his skin color. And, when Orbie crosses paths with the black Choctaw preacher, Moses Mashbone, he learns of a power that could expose and defeat his enemies, but can’t be used for revenge. When a storm of unusual magnitude descends, he happens upon the solution to a paradox that is both magical and ordinary. The question is, will it be enough?

Equal parts Hamlet and Huckleberry Finn, it’s a tale that’s both rich in meaning, timely in its social relevance, and rollicking with boyhood adventure. The novel mines crucial contemporary issues, as well as the universality of the human experience while also casting a beguiling light on boyhood dreams and fears. It’s a well-spun, nuanced work of fiction that is certain to resonate with lovers of literary fiction, particularly in the grand Southern tradition of storytelling.

To Purchase


My thoughts

Then Like the Blind Man is one of those novels that unfold just when they need to, let the reader in a little, but not too much, a novel that grips your mind and holds it.  There is no doubt that Freddie Owens is a master at his craft.

As a native Southern and a survivor of childhood abuse there were themes that disturbed me, but nevertheless are real life.  Orbie finds himself uprooted from his home in Detroit and taken to live with his grandparent's in rural Kentucky.  Not only has Orbie world turned upside down he has to learn to navigate the rural South where societal rules are never spoken or taught, but transgressions never forgotten.  He finds himself drawn to Willis, a stunningly talented, physically disabled black boy whom Orbie would have segregated himself from in Detroit, but has come to realize that skin color does not denote personal value.

In his young life Orbie is faced with the reality of segregation and discrimination.  He has lived with domestic violence and sexual abuse.  Indeed, this boy has faced a lifetime's worth of the best and worst of the human experience: murder, death, spirituality, forgiveness and love. He must also negotiate his new home where nothing and no one is as they seem.  

However, despite these heavy emotional themes the the novel never looses the sense of wonder that comes from seeing the world through Orbie's childish eyes.  As Orie grows and the novel progresses we see the boy grow into a young man.  In this growth, physically, emotionally and spiritually Orbie undergoes tremendous personal growth.

Then like the Blind Man is a peephole back through time to the 1950's South. By grounding his novel so firmly in an era of illusions, public personas and private demons Owens is able to play with the dichotomies of good and evil; of things apparent and those hidden and by doing so clearly illustrates through the character's of Orbie's sharecropping grandparents, who choose to defy convention, and impart to Orbie the only love he has ever known.  No, nothing in rural Kentucky is taken for granted and for Orbie it has some of the best of what life has to offer.

Just as Orbie is finding peace and a place for himself in his new home his mother and stepfather return to throw his life into chaos again.  There is no doubt that Freddie Owens studied Hamlet as Then Like the Blind Man seems to have recreate a rural-American version of Shakespeare's classic, different circumstance and different choices, but the same inevitable effect on the ending. 

Without a doubt it is a powerful piece of literature that seems to have so many themes, points and counterpoints, symbolism, mysticism and shows the souls ability to overcome the worst that the depravity of the human race can devise.  

Meet Freddie Owens

A poet and fiction writer, my work has been published in Poet Lore, Crystal Clear and Cloudy, and Flying Colors Anthology. I am a past attendee of Pikes Peak Writer’s Conferences and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and a member of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver, Colorado. In addition, I am/was a licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist, who for many years counseled perpetrators of domestic violence and sex offenders, and provided psychotherapy for individuals, groups and families. I hold a master’s degree in contemplative psychotherapy from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

I was born in Kentucky but soon after my parents moved to Detroit. Detroit was where I grew up. As a kid I visited relatives in Kentucky, once for a six-week period, which included a stay with my grandparents. In the novel’s acknowledgements I did assert the usual disclaimers having to do with the fact that Then Like The Blind Man was and is a work of fiction, i.e., a made up story whose characters and situations are fictional in nature (and used fictionally) no matter how reminiscent of characters and situations in real life. That’s a matter for legal departments, however, and has little to do with subterranean processes giving kaleidoscopic-like rise to hints and semblances from memory’s storehouse, some of which I selected and disguised for fiction. That is to say, yes, certain aspects of my history did manifest knowingly at times, at times spontaneously and distantly, as ghostly north-south structures, as composite personae, as moles and stains and tears and glistening rain and dark bottles of beer, rooms of cigarette smoke, hay lofts and pigs. Here’s a quote from the acknowledgements that may serve to illustrate this point.

“Two memories served as starting points for a short story I wrote that eventually became this novel. One was of my Kentucky grandmother as she emerged from a shed with a white chicken held upside down in one of her strong bony hands. I, a boy of nine and a “city slicker” from Detroit, looked on in wonderment and horror as she summarily wrung the poor creature’s neck. It ran about the yard frantically, yes incredibly, as if trying to locate something it had misplaced as if the known world could be set right again, recreated, if only that one thing was found. And then of course it died. The second memory was of lantern light reflected off stones that lay on either side of a path to a storm cellar me and my grandparents were headed for one stormy night beneath a tornado’s approaching din. There was wonderment there too, along with a vast and looming sense of impending doom.”

I read the usual assigned stuff growing up, short stories by Poe, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Scarlet Letter, The Cherry Orchard, Hedda Gabler, a little of Hemingway, etc. I also read a lot of Super Hero comic books (also Archie and Dennis the Menace) and Mad Magazine was a favorite too. I was also in love with my beautiful third grade teacher and to impress her pretended to read Gulliver’s Travels for which I received many delicious hugs.

It wasn’t until much later that I read Huckleberry Finn. I did read To Kill A Mockingbird too. I read Bastard Out of Carolina and The Secret Life of Bees. I saw the stage play of Hamlet and read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle too. However, thematic similarities to these works occurred to me only after I was already well into the writing of Then Like The Blind Man. Cormac McCarthy, Pete Dexter, Carson McCullers, Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Conner and Joyce Carol Oates, to name but a few, are among my literary heroes and heroines. Tone and style of these writers have influenced me in ways I’d be hard pressed to name, though I think the discerning reader might feel such influences as I make one word follow another and attempt to “stab the heart with…force” (a la Isaac Babel) by placing my periods (hopefully, sometimes desperately) ‘… just at the right place’.

Freddie Owens’ latest book is Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie’s Story.
Visit his website at or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.


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