“Remember, I’m not Arty,” Richard Uhlig inscribed on the title page when he signed a copy of his book for me.
Uhlig wrote “Last Dance at the Frosty Queen,” a coming-of-age novel. He recently made a swing through Kansas on a book-promotion tour.
The Arty he referred to is Arty Flood, the 18-year-old protagonist. Arty gets himself into trouble when all he really wants to do is get out of his small Kansas town.
Arty plans to leave Harker City the minute he graduates from high school in May (1988), if he can find the money he needs to hit the road.
Uhlig wrote “Last Dance at the Frosty Queen” with adult readers in mind, but it’s being marketed as a young adult novel. There are mature themes in the book, sex specifically, and sex is something that entangles Arty.
Arty has problems with women -— too many and the wrong ones. But there’s a new girl in town and she is enticing, elusive and mysterious.
Women are just one part of the story; Arty’s life is full of complications. He deals with his dysfunctional family, an employer who owes him money, and he is being bullied by the sheriff.
The town itself seems to be a character in the book. Arty feels that his confinement in Harker City is keeping him from becoming something great. Also, everyone in town knows his family’s history; that annoys him. And, because the community values athletes, he feels like an outsider.
“If you don’t play football in Harker City, you don’t exist (I don’t exist),” Arty says on page two of the book.
Those of us who have spent teenage years in a small town can relate to Arty’s desire to escape. At least I felt that way when I was 18. I wanted out. I wanted to be where there was action, activity, movement of any kind.
The book’s author, Richard Uhlig, lives in New York City.
But never fear, Uhlig understands small-town Kansas. He grew up in Herington and readily admits that the mythical Harker City is loosely based on his hometown. Harker City has the railroad, a lake, a former air base, and proximity to Junction City and Abilene.
I heard Uhlig talk about his book twice this month, once at Emporia State University (he’s a former ESU student) and again at the Kansas Book Festival in Wichita.
Maybe it’s because the book is written in first person that Herington residents seem to think that Arty is actually the author in disguise and they try to guess who the other characters are.
Uhlig told his audiences that he’s heard comments from Herington residents about the characters: “You really (captured) so-and-so,” and, “I didn’t know your mother drank.”
“This is fiction,” Uhlig said. “It really is fiction.”
He’s also gotten some flak about Arty’s perspective on Harker City. Some people think Uhlig is slamming Herington.
“(Arty’s) very cynical in the beginning, but as he’s about to leave, he sees it as a special place,” Uhlig said. “That’s part of his arc, his change. I’m not putting down my hometown.”
At one point in the story, Arty and his girlfriend climb a tower on the old air base. She talks about the possibility of leaping to their deaths. Arty has no intention of doing so and one of the reasons he gives for not wanting to jump: “One, if I do it, I will have lived my whole life in Harker City.”
He must find a way out of town.
Arty is a likeable character and there’s some nice humor in “Last Dance at the Frosty Queen.” It’s a great read.
Richard Uhlig resides in New York, but when he scrawls his stories out on a yellow legal pad, there’s plenty of Kansas dust mixed in with the ink.
“Flyover People” is online at www.flyoverpeople.net.
F Cheryl Unruh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.