Fake Fruit Factory, Patrick Wensink’s newest novel, features the small fictional town of Dyson, Ohio that is on the brink of being forgotten and going bankrupt. Add a plan to save the town, a mischievous mummy, and a legend of a hidden bowl of solid gold fruit into the mix and it seems as though there might be an ounce of hope for the microscopic community.
Oh, but I forgot to mention, Dyson happens to mark the spot for a rapidly plummeting satellite.
Anyone, like myself, who is from a small town can truly relate to at least the tamer of the on-goings in this novel. From the gossip galore to the underlying tone of isolation from the bigger picture, Dyson is depicted in the classic clique of living on the outskirts of society. Known as the Christmas City as well as the place where Abraham Lincoln once took a shit, the citizens of this tiny Ohio town have tried a handful of quirky tourist trap proposals to keep it from going under. The impending doom of a crashing satellite, however, gives them the extra push needed to band together and work even harder despite the hopelessness of the situation.
In the midst of chaos, the novel grounds itself through the connection of community as well as a dark-humored outlook on what appears to be Dyson’s inevitably grim future. While the young mayor, Bo Rutili, is the focus character, the novel circulates around a handful of the community members, giving a more varied and thorough view of the satellite crisis’ in its entirety. Chapters do not exist and, instead, Wensink divides his work first into three parts and then further into specific days and times. When this is combined with the rotating viewpoints, the novel takes on a fast-paced reading and opens up gaps that the reader is prompted to fill using the information given through the eyes of other characters. The comfort of settling in with one narrator is sacrificed in exchange for a more layered and rich telling of events; a point that strengthens not only how the story comes across, but also the unique love and hate that each of the characters have for their little town.
Without the humor, the novel would settle into a solemnness that would lack all of the spark and so, not get across the particular personality of this small town and its inhabitants. When a character is thought to have been murdered, the old basketball coach can’t help but remark how the suspect “couldn’t rebound for shit” and the death of a reporter kills a young woman’s dream of them moving to Hollywood and getting all the free blow they desire. On a less gruesome note, one town member hopes to save Dyson with a parade consisting of flinging thousands of pieces of fake fruit from building tops while another thinks embracing her Native American namesake of “Urinating Bear” and opening a casino might do the trick. My personal favorite, however, is the First Lady who pounds mudslides like it’s nobody’s business.
Through the crises and laughter, there is a story of a charming small town on the brink of extinction and how its citizens will be damned if that happens. While resisting romanticizing small towns, Wensink is able to portray the undeniable love and respect that these characters have for Dyson and the importance of it all. The readers are left with a few unsolved mysteries, which feeds into the intrigue, as well as a sliver of hope for a more prosperous future for the town.
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