Herrin's fourth novel (The Unwritten Chronicles of Robert E. Lee, 1989, etc.): a quiet, sturdy account of a dying man's journey across the country to his deathbed, which happens to be the same bed where he was born. The author manages to turn the stuff of soap opera into a heartfelt mythical odyssey, occasionally a bit garrulous but mostly full of craft. Ed Reece, dying of lung cancer, telegraphs Larry, his estranged older son, nearly 40. Despite his wife and other children, despite a prosperous business, ``All I can say now,'' Ed tells Larry, ``is that it hasn't been enough.'' So he has Larry buy a van and off they go, without telling the family. While they travel through the Midwest on their way to Chumleyville, Alabama, where Ed was born, the two have many heart-to-hearts, and Larry, drifting until now, begins to apprehend the world: ``Death was like a solution that brought every speck of beauty out of the world around you, but that would not let you breathe, let you be.'' They visit Connie, Larry's ex-wife, who now lives in the country with Larry's two kids and her female lover. Connie is a no-nonsense woman (``We're the salt of the earth. We pull our weight out here''), and Ed convinces her to come along with grandson Jeff. After the usual road scenes—flashbacks, a van breakdown, cops (because Ed's wife is convinced that Larry ``kidnapped'' his father)—Connie and Larry are reconciled, then bargain (in an affecting tragicomic scene) with the owners of the house where Ed wants to die. Ed passes away after a vision, leaving his family- -Ed's wife and younger son are now on the scene as well—bereft but wiser. Herrin builds his novel the old-fashioned way, earning his effects with slice-of-life detail that makes the archetypal father- son journey credible and unboastful rather than literary or postmodernist.
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