Jack's Place
by Phoebe Otis

"He tried to get to Jack, but something was wrong with his legs, and it was hard to breathe."

Diana Rice doesn't know what to expect when she decides to look up her last living relative in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Her cousin Charlie is a local boy who had excelled in school and had seemed to have a bright future ahead of him before being sent to Vietnam. He had returned home a completely different man. Renamed Charlie Mutters because of his constant talking to himself, he now squats in a camper cap on the land that once belonged to his grandfather but which has since been sold to a shady, out-of-state developer for back taxes. Determined to connect with him despite his problems, Diana works with Billy (Charlie's childhood friend) to become friends with her cousin.

Diana isn't the only newcomer in Charlie's life, though. Shortly after his cousin arrives in town, Charlie finds an abandoned and dying dog which has been left tied to a tree in the woods. With the help of Diana and Billy, Charlie rescues the animal and manages to get him to the town's veterinarian just in time. Named Jack by his rescuer, the dog begins to recover and soon becomes Charlie's constant companion. He also becomes the catalyst for bringing Charlie back to the person he once was. Yet despite this new hope and the gorgeous Cape Cod ambiance, there is a trouble coming for the Rice cousins. As Diana digs into the history of the purchase of her grandfather's property, she encounters some dangerous resistance. Certain parties are determined to keep the truth hidden and will even kill to guard their secrets.

In a short yet gripping novella, the author plunges the reader into a tale of family and friendship that must struggle to overcome past issues. Each of the principal characters, whether protagonist or antagonist, must either come to grips with their yesterdays or be forever defined by them. Diana, for example, has been a wanderer for years. Charlie and life in Provincetown may very well be her last hope for a stable future. Charlie's post-traumatic stress disorder from the Vietnam War has transformed him into the town's charity case. Until he forces himself to face his memories, he will never escape the "Charlie Mutters" identity that he has unconsciously assumed. Even Jack must let go of his horrendous abandonment and learn to trust humans again. Likewise, the chief antagonists have hardships from the past that have guided their actions in the present, but will they learn to get beyond them before it is too late?

In addition to this primary theme, Otis' book ripples with other concerns, two of which are understandable hot buttons for long-time residents like the author. Some people are so struck by the natural beauty of the area that they decide to stick around for a while and even adopt a pet to make their stay more comfortable. Then, when the reality of life settles in, some of these short-termers move on without the animal they have taken in, leaving the poor creature to run wild and possibly starve to death unless rescued by the locals. Outside development is another big issue that often frustrates residents due to its potentially negative impact on both the environment and the lifestyle of the area.

Chroniclers of life in this region have been numerous. Naturalists such as Henry David Thoreau and Henry Beston were some of the first to celebrate the wonders of Cape Cod, but a plethora of others in the fictional realm have set their works there, as well. Otis may be one of the newer voices on the scene, but the quality and content of her writing make hers definitely one to be heard.

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