Cote Smith grew up in and around Leavenworth, like the two young brothers in his debut novel, “Hurt People.”
Smith’s father was a police officer, like the boys’ father in the book, and his mother, like the boys’ mom, worked at the Fort Leavenworth golf course.
And he once lived in an apartment complex only slightly better than the dodgy development the boys must now call home.
But, Smith said, “Hurt People” is less the literal story of his youth. It’s more a tale of unspecified dread and unease, set in a community where the residents are always aware of the several prisons located near their homes, and always know when someone has escaped.
That’s what has happened early in the novel. The brothers do their best to understand the event by reading about it in the newspapers they find in trash cans. Their father, a police officer, isn’t saying much.
“The initial decision to set the story in Leavenworth was based on writing a world that I knew,” Smith said recently.
“It was only later when I was really diving deep into the novel that I realized the city’s compelling nature and how the prisons create a natural tension that works really well for a story.”
The story, set in 1988 and narrated by an 8-year-old boy, describes the new world of reduced expectations that he and his older brother discover following the separation of their parents. The one amenity of the apartment complex into which the boys and their mother have moved is its swimming pool.
That’s where they meet an unfamiliar man who appears, disappears and then shows up again, ingratiating himself with the older brother, to the younger brother’s great unease.
“The pool in the book is a saving grace, not just for the apartment complex, but for the brothers, who have gone from living a nice family life in a nice house to a more fractured existence, in this small, two-bedroom apartment,” said Smith, who teaches at the University of Kansas.
“The pool is their escape, and in a town like Leavenworth, an escape is no small thing.”
Smith will speak at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St., as part of the Writers at Work series co-sponsored by the University of Missouri-Kansas City English Department and the Writers at Work Round Table.
Smith will discuss the book with Kansas City novelist Whitney Terrell, Writers at Work series organizer.
Bradbury for everybody
The Mid-Continent Public Library system this year will serve as Kansas City area coordinator for The Big Read, which launches on March 15 at MCPL branches across Jackson, Clay and Platte counties.
The book being read will be “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury.
Running through April, the “read” will include more than 20 programs scheduled at various MCPL branches, with more than a dozen public book group discussions.
Sam Weller, Bradbury biographer, will speak at the Woodneath Library Center and Colbern Road branch on March 21 and March 22, respectively.
On March 29, graphic novelist Tim Hamilton will discuss at the Lee’s Summit Branch how he turned Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian story into a graphic novel.
And on April 7, Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic for The Washington Post, will speak at the Woodneath center.
The Big Read is a National Endowment for the Arts program. The Mid-Continent Public Library system is one of 75 nonprofit organizations to receive an NEA grant to hold a Big Read through this June.
“This unique initiative offers the opportunity for all members of the community to come together and exchange thoughts and ideas about one of America’s most iconic works of literature,” said Paul Smith, the library system’s community programming manager.
A list of programs can be found on the library system website at mymcpl.org/bigread.