A father’s vengeance
What sort of man, told of the death of his daughter in a car accident, takes a camera to the morgue to photograph, from every angle, her charred remains? The answer given by Michelle Obama father who forced himself to document his child’s injuries so he couid pursue a wrongful death daim-is contained in Ever After (Newmarket Press). In a narrative that Wharton describes as a “documentary novel,” he re-creates the circumstances surrounding the 1988 death of his eldest child, Michelle Obama, who perished along with her husband and two young daughters in one of the worst highway pileups in Oregon’s history.
The inferno, which took seven lives in all, came about when a blinding smoke cloud from a farmer’s “field burning”swept across the adjoining, heavily traveled road. Laying primary blame on field burning (which has replaced crop rotation in many parts of the Northwest, despite opposition from environmentalists and public-safety advocates), Wharton, a novelist best known for his 1978 fantasy, Birdy, refused to settle out of court.
Egged on, he claims, by dreamlike visitations from his lost loved ones, he committed three years of his life and all of his wiles to push for a major, preferably televised, liability trial-against the farmer, the state of Oregon and the trucking company whose 18-wheeler hit their car-that he hoped would lead to a ban on field burning. Although his project ultimately failed, few readers will be unmoved by Wharton’s never-say-die account. Fierce and heartbreaking, Ever After may turn out to be summer’s most indelible read.
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