Peter S. Rush
Prior Manor Press, 2017
We forget our nation is always experiencing moral growth. The recent Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary on the Vietnam War reminded us pointing out after the National Guard shot and murdered peaceful Kent State protesters in 1970, nearly two-thirds of the county thought the protesters deserved it. Sometimes, we forget our complicity in the ugliness of trying times. There is a reason for this, and it’s not something menacing or corrupt, not some original sin. We forget ourselves because it’s easy to do; taking the easy route is the gruesome banality of most of our lives. So when we encounter a story where the protagonist refuses the easy answer, refusing to shirk off their responsibility towards others and their own self, we call that heroic.
Such is the case with Peter Rush’s debut novel Wild World. The novel opens with the events of Kent State coming through the television of a group of Brown University friends. They are contemptuous of President Nixon (something the vast majority of people weren’t at the time) and fearful of being dragged into Vietnam. Yet they all want to do more, to get things back on track. These aren’t ordinary young adults, these are soon to be Ivy League graduates–the future elites. How does one decide to contribute to society? In the immediacy of post-Kent State, such a question isn’t merely idealistic:
“The government may be fascist and the war an abomination, but I’m concerned about my future. You guys can change the world,” Cal said as he left the table.
“That’s a little fucked up. It’s your country, too.” Andy turned to Steve. “And you?”
“If you had a chance to change the world, do something really big even if you knew it would change your life, would you do it?”
This early scene in the novel gives us our hero Steve Logan as he undergoes the experiences that change the direction of his life. Steve puts off law school and becomes the thing every faction of the counterculture hated, a cop. Not because he wants to be a bully or dodge the war, but because he believes people like him can change policing from the inside. This then is the crux of Rush’s novel, a young idealistic rookie cop enters an east coast police force at the height of corruption. Will he hold fast to his ideals? Will he find a way to actually force change?
In this way, Wild World is a thriller, a crime novel of sorts taking us through the early 70s dreck that was the urban East Coast. We see just how disgusting Providence, Rhode Island has become through neglect, race tensions, and opportunists in both the business world and civil service. It is a fascinating look at the pressures on an individual greeted with contempt at work, suspicion by friends, and near crippling self-doubt. Navigating these waters, Steve nearly burns out multiple times. He loses friends, alienates peers, wins and loses trust, and all to what end?
Rush takes his time walking us through the story via Steve’s perspective. We become alongside him a would-be detective discovering a scandal that flows not just through the police force but through city hall and his alma mater directly contributing to the racial tensions that did destroy many cities in the 1970s. Along the way there are some cliches endemic to the genre Rush is flirting with but those can be glossed over as merely procedural. The strength of Wild World is its focus, Steve is unflinching and nearly Job-like as he maneuvers not to just take down the corrupt but raise up the incorruptible.
There is a steady pace to Wild World. It has visceral passages depicting honest interactions between characters as well a larger sense that the world we are in is complete and this is just one story within it–a trait necessary for all successful fiction with a historical bent. Also, there is a seriousness to the cultural climate of the time sorely needed today, so we can revise our own experience of contemporary racial tension, policing, civil corruption, and hope.
Peter S. Rush is a graduate of Brown University and has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Florida. He was a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, Peace Corps volunteer, and a police officer. He is currently CEO of a global management firm.