Ceci, Louis Flint. “If I Remember Him”, Beautiful Dreamer Press, 2020.
It is 1935 and a catastrophic tornado changes the lives of those in the tiny town of Croy, Oklahoma forever. Lerner Alquist a wealthy resident of Croy becomes obsessed with building a library as a memorial to his wife, Ada, a victim of the tornado. By 1952, Croy has been rebuilt along with its many secrets. Andy Simms, the church music minister, is dating Pastor Matthew Jacobs’s daughter, Susan, but he is in love with a man, a Sikh artist Sundar “Sunny” Singh Sohi. Virginia, Alquist’s neglected daughter, is secretly married to Harry Edom, a Chickasaw handyman. When the library is finally finished and dedicated, things come to an ugly head.
All of this occurs on a town that is religious and populated by residents with prejudices and at a time in history where being straight white and Christian was the way people lived. But that was on the outside only. Writer Louis Flint Ceci shows us the hypocrisy of those who claim with the confines of their religion but who at the same time treat others in ways that are opposed to what their faith teaches them. We really see this in Alquist’s prejudices and that these feelings cost him all that he holds dear. Any of us who have grown up in a small town or within the confines of overbearing religion will see ourselves here.
It is easy to get lost in the plot but even easier to enjoy the author’s gorgeous prose and the characters he has created here. Perhaps we do not need to be reminded that sexual bigotry still exists in this world but when depicted by Ceci, it makes for a wonderful read. We see clearly what bigotry and prejudice can do.
Alquist wanted the library to preserve the history of Croy and to be a shelter should they have to face another tornado. (If you have lived through an act of nature such as this, it is easy to see why he thinks a shelter is so important). It was not an easy idea for the town because the land for the library would have to come from places where his tenants lived but he was so obsessed with it and preserving the memory of Ada that he saw it as a necessity for the town. It took seventeen years for see his dream completed. The idea of a statue of Ada takes us to the artist Sunny Sohi, who has never been accepted in town because he is Asian. Soon music minister Andy, is fascinated by Sonny who got the job to sculpt the statue but it is seen by the town elders as controversial. They also saw the whole library project as controversial and especially that an outsider was to create the statue. There are tensions in the town and things come to a head and we see clearly that everything is not what it seems. Yet this is also a love story as much as it is a story about prejudice in mid-20th-century Oklahoma.