The Brothers' Keepers
... a modern literary novel by
John H. Paddison
Charles D. Orvik
All questions and comments are welcome and appreciated. Please contact John Paddison or Charles Orvik at:.
In 1996, then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton popularized the saying that “It Takes a Village to raise a child.”The Brothers’ Keepers, a novel by John H. Paddison & Charles D. Orvik, reminds us that it can also take a village to destroy a child.This heart-wrenching tale of five brothers in depression-era North Dakota calls into question what it means to be a community.It is a story that rings true in these days riddled with headlines of child abuse, abandoned infants, and filicide.The Brothers’ Keepers is a must read for anyone concerned about the welfare of children.
The Brothers’ Keepers by John H. Paddison and Charles D. Orvik chronicles the progression of the five Lambson boys through the convolutions of neglect and abuse. The fictional tale reads as a meticulous, almost autobiographical account of a family deconstructed by the Great Depression, alcoholism, and abandonment, as well as a welfare system not well established enough (or even invested enough) to care for five children desperately in need of attention. For the neglectful Cora and Iver Lambson, the births of their sons are unexpected, though the abuse the boys experience ultimately comes to be anticipated by the siblings.
The despair of the Depression and the political events of the Second World War parallel the Lambson family’s travails in this literary novel, offering an astonishingly thorough account of the economic and social climate which pervades every aspect of their subsistence. The harsh climate of 1930s North Dakota aptly mirrors the landscape of their own futile lives and the narrative closely follows the fragmentation of not only the Lambson family, but of each of the five boys.
The same determination the boys show in hanging an old tractor tire from the huge, timeless tree in their front yard, however, clings to them through every beating, every broken bone, every flesh wound they receive. The connotation of the tire suspended from the tree pictured on the front cover of the book is one of lazy summer days playing with friends, lemonade offered by a smiling, loving mother to quench parched lips, and falling exhausted into a soft bed at the end of each active day. Conversely, this deceptive snapshot of the cottonwood tree and its tire swing more closely resembles what is actually missing from the boys’ lives: The stability the tree represents, the carefree summer days, the assumption that children will be loved and fed. Even their shared bed is but a bare mattress covered only by a urine-soaked quilt.
Scavenging through a junkyard for car batteries and hubcaps the way other boys open a toy box to pull out an Erector set or Tinker Toys, the Lambson boys are survivors in the very literal sense of the word. Pilfering food from neighbors in order to fill their unremittingly empty bellies, they feel more of a sense of security from the pot-bellied stove in their dilapidated farmhouse than from either of their parents. They soon learn they can rely only on each other.
Though a few people lend a helping hand to the boys in their childhood, none of the relationships sustain the duration of their lives: The sheriff’s wife; two soldiers who offer a ride to the hungry and weary brothers as they hitchhike to their grandparents’; foster families, the Rykkers and the Goodwins and the Helgeses; and especially the Lutheran Welfare Society (LWS) caseworker assigned to the boys when they are finally taken from their mother.
LWS’ Miss Clarissa Clementson’s hopes for a better future for the boys, whom she calls “her special children”, are thwarted at every turn by the agency recruited to care for the children. The beleaguered social worker eventually becomes disillusioned with and resigns from the career she feels was her “life’s calling”; an analogy for the way everyone ultimately turns its collective back on the boys. Even many of the families with whom the boys are placed as foster children admit to “utilizing agency children to help around the farm” rather than seeing the innocent children as simply needing structure, discipline, and love.
Any definitive triumphs are tempered by the numerous pitfalls as the boys are separated from each other and they each make their way to their individual destinies.
The Brothers’ Keepers begs - no, wrenches from us - the question: Where are the caretakers of the abused, the neglected? And it makes us cry. For “those destined to be the brothers and those doomed to become the keepers.”
The Pierce County Tribune
Feature Article, 3/12/20
Longtime Rugby Attorney Charles D. Orvik
co-authors novel about his childhood
by Terri Kelly Barta
The Brothers' Keepers, a modern literary novel, was written by John H. Paddison and his brother-in-law Charles D. Orvik. Orvik, a retired attorney, practiced law in Rugby for over forty years. Paddison is the husband of Orvik's half-sister, Jeanne whom he did not grow up with, but met later in life.
In sharing their separate childhood stories-–which in Orvik's case along with his four brothers, involved a life of child neglect and foster care–-Jeanne and her husband John, and Charles and his wife Bonnie, talked at great length. Jeanne Paddison was the daughter of Orvik's father after his parents had gone their separate ways.
"About five years ago, I said to Charles, I would really like to write your story," said Paddison. He added that it was such a compelling story it had to be told.
Dr. Paddison is professor emeritus at Central Arizona College. He has a doctorate in English and a writing career that started with non-fiction educational publications before branching out to fiction.
Orvik thought about it and eventually agreed. They decided to collaborate on the book and make it a work of literary fiction. To protect people involved from embarrassment, the names have been changed and the details re-arranged.
Paddison said he hopes the book captures what he was trying to do, which is shed light on the questions, Does child neglect ever stop and who is responsible? Thus the title The Brothers Keepers.
"I don't have any answers, but in the literary tradition, our novel should hold a mirror up for people to see and ask questions," said Paddison. "I hope it somehow makes a difference."
The book is written based on a 96-page report on Orvik and his brothers when they were in foster care and a little from Paddison's experiences growing up. Orvik was able to read and receive a copy of the 96-page report on his family when he later served on the board of the social services agency that had worked with the boys' cases.
The book, according to its back cover, is "the saga of the five Lambson brothers, which takes place in the fictional town of Farmington, ND, during and after the Great Depression. In a sensitive yet realistic way, the story line develops around the neglect and then abandonment of five young boys by their alcoholic mother and drifter father, as well as their development under adverse physical and social conditions and the boys' eventual outcome. Events of the story are structured so as to bring light upon two social ills that plague America today––child neglect and child abuse."
In 1942, Orvik's biological mother, who had been raising her children alone after his father left, called social services and told them she was leaving with her boyfriend at 2:00 p.m. and someone would need to come and pick up her five sons or they would be left alone. The children were taken to a children's home at that point.
Charles Orvik moved to Rugby in 1948 when he was placed in foster care with a Rugby family who already had his youngest brother. He was in the eighth grade when he came and he graduated from Rugby High School in the Class of 1954. Back then there were no laws to terminate parents' rights so the boys could not be adopted by the Rugby family. Later when the law did come into affect, Charles was a senior and his brother who had lived with the family since the age of 2 was in school, social services told the family they could adopt the younger brother but not Charles as he was aging out of the system. The family didn't think it would be fair to the older brother since they loved both children as their own so they chose to keep them as foster children. Orvik thinks of this family as his family in addition to his brothers and half sister.
The five brothers were reunited once as adults in 1967 at their biological mother's home where she lived with her fourth husband. Orvik said, interestingly enough, the boys all used the same slang expressions and all had the same laugh even though separated when they were very young. It was the only time all five would be together as the oldest brother died soon after that.
The Brothers' Keepers is available at Amazon.com at the following website:
Also, autographed copies are are can be purchased at the authors' website:
The Brothers’ Keepers
A Professor and Attorney team up to write a social issue novel about child abuse and neglect situated in 1930’s-1940’s North Dakota—and reveal the ongoing weaknesses in the “traditional” institutions chartered to help our children.
Publisher: Amazon Create Space
ISBN: 1453692010 / 9781453692011
316 pages, paperback, $11.95
Reviewed by Dr. Jeffrey Ross
Let me assure you—there are no vampires or wise old hoary-headed wizards in this darkling text. Even so, plenty of malevolent forces, most undeterred, “slither” through its pages.
Authors Paddison (a retired English professor) and Orvik (a retired attorney) use the obliquely-twisted yet flat landscape of 30’s and 40’s era North Dakota as the backdrop for portraying the systematic de-evolution of a family. TBK painfully illustrates the outcomes of child abuse and child neglect—the five Lambson brothers characterized in the book all suffer physically, psychologically, and spiritually from the life handed to them by several “keepers”—their inadequate parents, the public school system, church and government welfare agencies, foster homes, and, as they unstoppably mature, even their painful and debilitating memories.
The authors clearly demonstrate their knowledge of North Dakotan topography, the agricultural industry, traditional Midwestern ethos, and time period-appropriate political and socio-economic events. Few sermonizing or editorial asides detract from the novel’s ongoing narrative praxis—the boys, neglected from early childhood by a womanizing, wandering father and a dissolute, hard-drinking mother, have never learned to behave within acceptable social norms. Clambering and foraging, always moving, always hungry, always cold, always in mischief, playing with matches, guns, and perpetually suffering physical injuries, they generate legions of problems for themselves and the community that reaches out to them with only the most facile of “supportive” gestures.
Paddison and Orvik are institution “iconoclasts.” The tone, the descriptive context, the atmosphere of TBK is a mixture of Upton Sinclair’s harsh naturalistic descriptive power—and Sherwood Anderson’s detail-rich view of small Midwestern towns. Typical traditional “helping” institutions exist in TBK—the apparently happy American family, the local church Lady’s Aid Society, the Lutheran Welfare Society, the Home for Wayward youth, Christian Foster Care Homes—but none seek to make an honest, or morally sincere, commitment to the well-being of the Lambson children.
Paddison and Orvik, in their fictionalized yet eerily peripatetic account of the North Dakota communities, construct a kind of uncomfortable realism. The authors effectively illustrate the bureaucratic dilemmas, weaknesses, and tabled-decision making faced by both private and governmental agencies [whose apparent mission is to help children such as the brothers]. The book is filled with constant reports, evaluations, re-evaluations, records reviews, and obtuse explanations ----- filed by agencies, both private and governmental, that have somehow become involved in the Lambson family situation and struggle to make any positive, substantial change in the boys’ lives...
Attorney Orvik’s past experiences working with child abuse cases helps to certify much of the behavioral contexts (both by the Lambson boys AND the agencies who cannot help them).
Yes, Professor Paddison and Barrister Ovik can be literary. The harsh north wind, harbinger of the high plains winter—is kept just at bay. The recurring images of fire hint at both danger and purification. The rich farmland situates a stark stage for the starved lives of the five siblings.
TBK demonstrates many of the questions about child abuse and neglect have not yet been answered. The Lambson children’s problems cannot be blamed solely on the economic or intellectual or cultural milieu of pre-WW II America. Arcane—but identifiable-- forces which damaged their lives continue to negatively affect children today. Paddison and Orvik have written fiction that tackles a large social issue. In the end, the authors created a progressive-minded literary work that explores an all-too-common social problem still persisting. One further question lingers—how will the Keepers of today guarantee the future well-being of our children?
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All questions and comments are welcome and appreciated. Please contact John Paddison or Charles Orvik at:.