In a sluggish second novel from Vice (Reckless Driver, 1995), a politically correct band of lonely hearts find love and meaning in a small town in coastal Maine. More a collection of events linked by time, place, and characters than a novel with distinctive protagonists, the story is told in a sequence of short segments, a device that not only makes it harder to keep track of the various characters and their current activities but vitiates what little dramatic tension there is. Among those residing in isolated Preacher's Lake, a decaying community with a boarded-up church and scanty employment, are Slim Riley, a gawky man with a heart of gold who takes care of the local dump; Janesta Curtis, who yearns for excitement and the bright lights; her mentally retarded daughter Crystal, who watches The Wizard of Oz over and over again; recently divorced Lizzy, a nurse, who yearns to have a child; Nelly, a lesbian farmer with troubling memories of her past; and Michael, Kaye, and their daughter Aran, who are building a house in the woods. The group of newcomers who set the plot in motion include Carol, still grieving over the death of her lover Annie; homeless and unemployed Rita, with her biracial child Rainey; and novice pastor Joe. As the months pass, Slim marries Janesta, who soon leaves him to take care of Crystal; Lizzy has a brief affair with the just separated Michael; and Nelly takes in Rita. Following an accident, Rita, also a lesbian, must struggle to run the farm in Nelly's absence. Meanwhile, she finds herself falling in love with Carol. Happy outcomes largely follow, many spurred by Pastor Joe, who opens up the old church, preaches love, tolerance, and forgiveness, and brings the community together. Overall, too nice a place, in too nice a book featuring too nice an ending.
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