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Cage's Bend    by Carter Coleman order for
Cage's Bend
by Carter Coleman
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

This novel about the Rutledge family, with their southern roots and southern gothic setting, is reminiscent of Pat Conroy's highly acclaimed Beach Music. It's about three brothers born to an Episcopalian minister, Franklin Rutledge, and his wife Margaret. The eldest, Cage, is handsome, intelligent, and charismatic. Nick, eleven months Cage's junior, is quiet and shy - these two boys share a close relationship despite their different personalities. Harper, the youngest by ten years, often felt like an afterthought, since Cage and Nick were so close, chronologically and emotionally, while Harper futilely tried to keep up.

The Rutledges are a southern family - while they move from time to time, they always remain in the south. Franklin becomes an Episcopalian bishop in Memphis and Margaret continues to serve as wife and mother. Tragedy strikes when Nick is killed in 1987 and the Rutledge family breakdown begins. Cage is wracked with unsurmountable guilt and grief, which plunges him into the depths of what later is diagnosed as bipolar disorder. Cage's time as the golden boy seems to be over as he drops out of graduate school and counts his days in institutional settings or jails. He rides one manic episode after another with a crushing depressive period in between. These episodes are typically interspersed with hopeful, promising comebacks to normalcy, which instill hope in Cage's parents, his grandmother, and Harper. However, Cage's illness is complex, and some days he appears to be only a shadow of his former self, far distant from the glory days from his youth.

Meanwhile, Harper has achieved financial success on Wall Street at an early age. Harper seems to be wracked with his own share of pain, however. He was an angry child for reasons unknown to his parents and perhaps unknown to Harper, too. As a successful, single man in New York, Harper's fixations outside of work consist of alcohol, cocaine, promiscuity and sexual addiction. Franklin and Margaret are unaware of Harper's problems, which are most likely overshadowed by Cage's ongoing mental illness and the fact that Harper lives in New York while his parents live in Memphis. Margaret remains the tenacious, optimistic mother to her boys and her focus is to help heal her fractured family, while Franklin agonizes over the fact that he cannot save his sons.

Cage's Bend is a poignant page-turner that reaches epic proportions, as the story is told through the eyes of the various family members in alternating chapters. The book moves back and forth in time and a multi-layered account unfolds about the Rutledge's love for one another, their anguish and their successes, and the overall conflicting nature of family love and relationships. Coleman is a talented writer with a unique talent for portraying the south and southern families, as they struggle with the question of how far we can go to help someone that we love.

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