Saturday, January 10, 2009

Now is the Hour

It is a fascinating experience to read a novel, written by someone you once knew, set in the town in which you once lived at a time when you were there. Now is the Hour, by Tom Spanbauer is that book.

I loved reading this book. It is one that I wanted to never end. Perhaps it was because the setting was so familiar, but probably it was because it is a very good book.

I first met Tom on the first day of ninth grade at Hawthorne Junior High School, in Pocatello, Idaho. I had transferred from another school because my parents moved over the summer. Tom was entering public school for the first time, having gone to a private Catholic school for his first eight years. We were in the same English class. The teacher called on Tom and Tom popped up out of his seat to answer. Students snickered, the teacher sighed and said, "sit down, sit down" in a tired way and muttered something about nuns and Catholic schools and that's not the way we do it here. As a fellow newbie to the school, I felt an immediate bond and instant dislike for the teacher. Tom was quiet and smart and unfailingly polite. He had a sweet smile and my friends and I all agreed he was quite cute. That spring I invited him to be my date for a dance being held by the Job's Daughters group I belonged to. It was, as I remember, a fairly awkward evening, with long gaps in the conversation—we were both pretty shy in those days. But we enjoyed dancing and he was a good dancer. This first date did not lead to romance, but rather to a casual, superficial friendship that lasted through High School and into college. Then I lost track of him. Years went by and we moved to Portland in 1993. I saw in the paper that Tom Spanbauer would be reading from his new novel at a local bookstore, and learned that he lived in Portland. I went to the reading and afterward sought him out. He remembered me and mentioned that I had been his first date and he thought his mother still had the photo that was taken of us in our party clothes. He seemed as gentle and polite as he was in the ninth grade. Since then I have read all four of his novels and seen him from time to time at readings.

Reading his books has revealed to me how little I really ever knew Tom. If he had ambitions to be a writer I never knew about them. I couldn't have imagined how keenly he was observing the life of our community, nor how beautifully he would one day remember that place and time in his writing. While reading Now is the Hour I remembered things long forgotten, like the sweaty smell of cedar and the windrows of Lombardy poplar trees that defined the boundaries of the farms along the Portneuf River. Friday nights at the Red Steer Drive-In or the Snac-out. St. Joseph's, where the Girl Scout troop met, and the Memorial Building. Hot summer nights that smelled like sagebrush, St. Anthony's Hospital where my sister was born, now long gone. The book is fiction, but the place was real and every so often someone real walks through the pages. Someone I knew, or knew of. As I read the book, I seemed to see myself at its edges—perhaps I was somewhere in the Wys Way market, shopping with my Mom when Rigby John, the main character, came in with his mother. I could have been in one of the cars across the parking lot at the Red Steer, or at the Snac-out. When Rigby John was being beat up by Joe Scardino behind the Memorial Building I might have been at my friend Lea's just up the street.

I am proud of my old friend and happy that he has found success and, more importantly, I hope, satisfaction in his work. Besides being an author he is quite famous locally as a writing teacher. I can recommend all of his books. In the City of Shy Hunters and Now is the Hour are my favorites. If you require a warning about graphic sexuality, consider yourself duly warned, but I hope not dissuaded.

Tom Spanbauer


  1. It sounds like a great recommendation so thank you. How lucky to both have a gem of a novel and something written that has personal meaning for you.

    Thanks again.

  2. THANKS for letting us know of great read. It is so NEAT to have a book written in an area one is familiar with. HawkLady

  3. thanks so much for the sggestion. I will look for his work. It's very cool when you can put yourself into the book in that way.

  4. It must be really fun to read a story set in a familiar place and have it stir up memories.
    I used to love the Susan Dunlap's mysteries set in Berkeley, which was our hometown for years.
    At least you won't find yourself in Tom's graphic sex scenes because you just had a platonic friendship.
    I will look for his book.

  5. Must read these books. Tom was just a passing acquaintence for me but is certainly a name that reminds me of Pocatello. Does he write of the "Tastee Treat"?

    Those Lombardy poplars you speak of were called Mormon poplars by many of the settlers and dry farmers in the area.

  6. Beautifully written, Terry; a tribute to your own memories as well as to Tom's accomplishments. As for whether he had ambitions to be a writer when you were in school together, I'm just now reading Natalie Goldberg's Long Quiet Highway (which I seem to recall you recommended), and was struck by how long it took for the "writing gene" to express itself in her; she was 24 before she wrote her first poem.

  7. I shall have to look for his books..sounds like an interesting read..

    The cover of the book looks 'quiltish' to me!

  8. Anonymous9:26 AM

    Thanks for the suggestion. I didn't live in Pocatello, but lived up north in Orofino (east of Lewiston). When you mentioned the Red Steer I could almost taste their cheeseburger that had a slice of ham on it. YUM!
    When you mentioned how he stood up in class when asked a question, we were required to do that up north. Coming from Oregon, I had no clue it was required. The first time I was asked a question and didn't stand up, the teacher looked at me as if I had committed a cardinal sin.