How to Catch a Coyote by Christy Crutchfield
Publishing Genius Press, 2014; 208 pp
Reviewed by Megan Turner
Disclaimer: I studied fiction with Christy Crutchfield at the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and in the English, creative writing program at Elon University.
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“Of course, showing his daughter the traps would be the wrong decision. She’d take his shoulders and relocate him. She’d lean over the mouth of the trap, too close.
All he’d be able to say would be, ‘It’s not as bad as it looks,’ and he’d try to guide her away.
That’s when the futile fists would start, fast little pounds on his chest that would finally collapse into flat palms. She’d want to set every trap off. She’d huff through her nose, tap her feet back and forth in place.”
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How to Catch a Coyote by Christy Crutchfield is a distinctly southern novel. The piece spans thirty years, detailing the lives of two generations from 1978 to 2008. It centers on the dysfunctional Walker family, headed by Maryanne and Hill. As one might expect, the novel also includes an extended metaphor on catching coyotes. The novel is about destructive families, class, and poverty and one’s inability to escape these circumstances, at least not without being scarred.
Rather than a novel, Crutchfield’s Coyote functions as interrelated stories, following the trajectories of Maryanne and Hill and their children, Dakota and Daniel. These trajectories run parallel to each other, intersecting only at key moments of the characters’ lives. Instead of following a chronological order, the novel also jumps in time. In this way, the reader learns how Hill and Maryanne meet, why they drop out of school, and how they create the circumstances that lead to their daughter’s ruin.
The most compelling sections come from the mother, Maryanne. Written in second person, her story is a tragic one. She expects little from life, and she receives even less than that. Ultimately, she does what she can to improve the lives of her children, but her own life is a static one, as she works a factory job at S&S in order to support her family. Despite all this, Maryanne is in love with Hill, even after he molests their daughter and drinks himself to death.
Although the novel includes many viewpoints, Daniel is clearly the protagonist—the only one who seems capable of leaving his destructive upbringing behind him. He loves his sister, Dakota, despite the damage their father has done. Some of the most moving passages, in fact, involve brother and sister and the small interactions between them.
Crutchfield’s prose also is moving due to its language, which is precise and odd at times. One of my favorite sections describes Daniel and a splinter, which he never removes from the bottom of his foot.
Writes Crutchfield: “But Daniel knows that no matter how many splinters he’s removed since, they don’t cancel out the black dot growing lighter and lighter in his foot. When he can’t see it anymore, it will break out of the skin and tumble into his bloodstream […] He’s pretty sure he will die in his mid-twenties, and if not then, by his early thirties.”
The novel concludes shortly after Hill’s death, which, in the end, is not as therapeutic for the family as Daniel hopes. Still, for the Walker family, there are signs of healing and the possibility of repair, especially for Daniel and Dakota. How to Catch a Coyote is a troubling story—and one that points to the potential in Crutchfield’s prose. Seemingly harmless on the surface, the novel digs deep, illustrating Crutchfield’s aptitude for exposing the dark and once there, showing the light that exists within it.