Man on the Fence
by John R. Day, Jr.
Cowhead Publishing Company

"He got up off the couch and then got down on one knee in front of Page. She snorted. Evidently she found it funny."

Growing up in Southern Michigan, Tate Daniels pitches in on his family’s dairy farm and yearns to someday make it to the big leagues as a baseball talent. Coming of age in the Vietnam era, life takes a series of unexpected twists and turns for Tate as his high school playing days are sidelined by coaching changes and school board politics. Eventually, though, he’s scouted by a small college and finally finds his way back to the diamond. Torn between a high school sweetheart away at college and a feisty new girlfriend soon to depart as well, Tate’s decision is made for him when the latter, Page, becomes pregnant. Determined to do the right thing by Page and her family, Tate asks Page to marry him. As a new husband and father, Tate has to reevaluate his life’s goals and priorities.

Eventually, Tate is pushed by his friends into the world of politics, serving as a congressman representing his local, rural Michigan community. While the people who grew up with Tate expect him to cave in to their demands and give them a voice in Washington, Tate, on the other hand, has always taken pride in his convictions and independent thinking. Wanting to do right by his community means making tough choices, and his sometimes-progressive politics land him in conflict with people that he has known since childhood. As Daniels balances being a family man, a country boy, and just one of the guys, a worsening political climate threatens to change his family life forever.

Day captures the honest, straightforward style of the Midwest country lifestyle with characters that make questionable decisions but often act in the best interest of not just themselves but their community. Tate, Garrett, their families, and friends burst from the page with a dialogue style that reads naturally, peppered with masculine smack talk and pop culture quotes from movies and songs throughout the latter decades of the 20th century. Each of the eras of the lives of Tate and later Page are colored by accurate political concerns from draft dodging all the way to subsidies and bailouts. Nailing down all of these little details is a key component to how this story can at times feel less like a fictional story and more like an autobiography with nothing to hide.

For anyone growing up in a similar time or part of the country, the people and events in this book will have real-world analogs, allowing the reader to reminisce and compare their own wild adventures with the ones cooked up by the author. There’s more than just pining for the “good old days,” however, as the author is always careful to capture the consequences of teenage hijinks and mischief and not just glorify behavior for the sake of nostalgia. The result is a narrative constructed upon memories of the past but with a foot grounded in the present. Readers can pine for a misspent youth while also acknowledging the wisdom that comes with age, realizing that they probably wouldn’t simply do it all over again given the chance. Expertly recording the kinds of bonds between lifelong partners that may not always be pretty and can involve tough love, this novel is a character-driven slice of modern Americana that knows what it represents for better or for worse. It does so honestly and without hesitation.

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