5 Minutes With:

Smith Henderson

Fourth of July Creek, Smith Henderson‘s mesmeric debut novel, is published today. We believe it to be one of the best debuts you’ll ever read.

Fourth of July Creek is set in rural Montana in the early 1980’s. Pete Snow is a social worker struggling with the case-load of the sprawling town and outlying region of Tenmile, as his own life steadily falls apart. In trying to help Benjamin Pearl, an undernourished, nearly feral eleven-year-old boy, Pete heads for the hardscrabble hills and comes face-to-face with Benjamin’s father, a quite brilliant yet paranoid survivalist eking out a life for both him and his son untouched by modern staples. The novel explores the texture and colour of freedom, community, family, suspicion and all-out anarchy with a mastery that unquestioningly marks the arrival of an astounding literary talent.

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Don’t just take our word for it, check out these stunning advanced quotes:

‘This book left me awestruck; a stunning debut which reads like the work of a writer at the height of his power. Begins with the story of one struggling man and his family and soon seems to encompass and address all of modern America’s problems. Fourth of July Creek is a masterful achievement and Smith Henderson is certain to end up a household name.’ Philipp Meyer

‘An astonishing read. The writing is energetic and precise. The story is enthralling. Henderson has a mastery of scale that allows this particular place and these particular people to illuminate who we are as Americans, and the consequences of the complex project that has become our nation. I could not recommend this book more highly.’ Kevin Powers

Fourth of July Creek cannot possibly be Smith Henderson’s first book. Its scope is audacious, its range virtuosic, its gaze steady and true. A riveting story written in a seductive and relentlessly authentic rural American vernacular, this is the kind of novel I wish I’d written.’ Claire Vaye Watkins

Fourth of July Creek knocked me flat. This gorgeous, full-bodied novel seems to contain all of America at what was, in retrospect, a pivotal moment in its history… Smith Henderson has delivered nothing less than a masterpiece of a novel.’ Ben Fountain

‘[A] mesmerizing accomplishment. I cannot think of a finer first novel; it’s hard, in fact, to think of a finer second, third, or fourth one, either.’ Antonya Nelson

‘Smith Henderson’s prose is an utter joy to read… An extraordinary debut.’ Jenni Fagan

‘It barely seems credible that this is Smith Henderson’s first book.’ Jonathan Lee

We caught up with the hugely talented Smith Henderson to find out a bit more about him…

Why do you write?

I honestly don’t know if I can answer that, other than to say it’s just my practice. The way some people have a consuming activity that deepens them in some way through repetition. It’s just my practice.

What’s your inspiration for writing?

Experiences and imagination. Trying to figure out what’s going on a particular headspace. Sometimes it’s just the hunch that something might make a good story. But to keep going and complete a piece, it has to feel worth sharing. So one has an audience in mind.

What were you doing before you became a writer?

Remaining actively underemployed so I could practice writing and hopefully get some day good enough at it so I could be a writer for a living. Among these employments were journalist, social worker, prison guard, teacher, ad man.

Who are your literary idols?

Too many. Faulkner, Cheever, Hemingway, Munro, Steinbeck, Bellow, Joyce, Saramago, Mitchell (David), Marquez, Le Carre, McCarthy (Mary and Cormac), O’Connor (Flannery), Homer…I mean, sheesh, everything. If I haven’t read it, I’m probably still going to find something I like.

And non-literary idols?

None really. I’m not very idealistic. I mostly admire the supremely flawed and fallen. People like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon (weirdly) and Malcolm X and Lincoln. Cicero has always been a favorite for trying so desperately to be a rational centrist. I kind of despise people who are completely right, even though I admire their courage and so on. I like my heroes to be like Jesus or Socrates, where they seem to be longing for the cross or the hemlock.

Favourite book?

Are you kidding? You name one and you just get started on an endless list, a personal canon. I cannot do it.

Favourite film?

No. I don’t think I like movies that much anymore. Let’s say Goodfellas, but really why not add One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest or Five Easy Pieces and then we’re into a whole thing about 70s American cinema.

See above, re: Favourite book

What have been the landmark moments in your life to date?

Birth was a big one. Marriage. Fatherhood. Divorce. Publishing a book. Writing a commercial script for Clint Eastwood.

Where are you right now?

Portland, Oregon. At my kitchen counter. Waiting for the beans heat up.

Your guiltiest pleasure?

Getting drunk in the middle of the day.

Approximately how many books do you own?

Not all that many. I loan them or throw them out. I can’t abide a library. Odd for a writer, but true.

Where were you born?


Tell us about a book you own that you’ve never read.

Infinite Jest. I feel bad he’s dead so young, but I can’t fix that by reading that thing.

Hunter S. Thompson used to type out The Great Gatsby to know what it felt like to write it. What would be your choice?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

How many places have you lived?

Over a dozen.

If you could be anywhere now, where would it be and who with?

Right here with my woman is pretty good. There could be a beach outside and I wouldn’t complain.

What are your writing habits?

Every morning. Cup of coffee. First thing before anything can get at me. It’s good to have a head with no media in it.

What are you reading now?

Several things. Le Carré a lot this year. James Dickey’s Deliverance. Some histories of the American auto industry.

What and where is your favourite bookshop?

Powell’s bookstore. Portland, Oregon.

Who is largely undiscovered and should be read?

Brian Hart.

Where is your favourite place to read?

In bed.


Order your copy of Fourth of July Creek.



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Windmill is the online home of literary publishers Windmill Books, William Heinemann and Hutchinson. Part of Penguin Random House UK.