“Your grandpa is a felon,” Sweet tells her 10-year-old nephew, Dustin. “A felon and a Christian. He says he’s a felon because he’s a Christian. Now, what kind of baloney is that?” So begins Rilla Askew’s newest novel, Kind of Kin, released this month.
In it, she captures the trials of a woman trying to hold her family together in the face of adversity and a swirl of events destined to change a small Oklahoma town.
When Bob Brown is arrested for harboring undocumented Mexican immigrants, his orphaned grandson, Dustin, takes it upon himself to help reunite one of the immigrants, who escaped the raid on Brown’s farm, with his sons.
Dustin’s disappearance prompts a flurry of attention from the news media, and his Aunt Sweet must fight to preserve what remains of her family while probing her own faith.
At this evening’s book signing at Full Circle Bookstore, Askew said she hopes to invite a discussion on these hot-button issues explored in Kind of Kin, In addition, the author will read a selected chapter from the novel.
The characters in Kind of Kin are complex, with backstories that are revealed slowly over the course of the narrative arc.
Askew, who grew up in Bartlesville and sets much of her fiction in Oklahoma, describes herself as a character-oriented writer, saying that through them, the story truly began to “come awake.”
“What we love about [reading] is being able to get beneath another human being’s skin and see the world through their eyes,” she said.
Kind of Kin tells the story of the repercussions of the passage of House Bill 1830, a fictitious piece of legislation similar to the actual Oklahoma House Bill 1804, which the state Legislature passed in 2007. The measure outlawed assistance to suspected illegal immigrants — even if it was simply giving the person a ride to work — and gave police greater authority to investigate suspected illegals.
At the time of HB 1804’s passage, Askew didn’t take much notice of Oklahoma law. She does now. Like one of the characters in the novel, she had a younger family member whose spouse came to be deported in the wake of the bill.
Although the story is not a narrative of that relative’s life, “there was a personal element,” Askew said. “There was also a philosophical element that came from both my knowledge of Oklahoma history, my love for Oklahoma and its people, and the knowledge that we have much in our state history that reflects the national history.”
Politics play into the story, but Kind of Kin is mostly about faith and family and the deeper questions that arise when the three are thrown into contention.
By writing Kind of Kin, Askew said she hopes to put a human face on the issues, showing the consequences through the microcosm of one family.