Woodring (Springtime on Mars
, 2008, etc.) doesn't specify the state, but her fictional Goliath is clearly in the South, and the fact that the on-the-brink-of-bankruptcy factory makes furniture suggests her native North Carolina. It's a mild October day when teenaged Vincent Bailey finds the crushed body of Percy Harding on the railroad tracks, but cold weather and hard times are coming. Percy's death has changed Goliath's zeitgeist, thinks police chief Clyde Winston: "It was as if every person in town had put their own bodies in way of the train and were all broken now, spiritless." Mood-directing statements like this dot the narrative, which swoops in and out of many lives. Central among them is Rosamond Rogers, who was Percy's secretary and has become a reluctant repository of her neighbors' confidences about everything from stealing candy to deliberately pricking babies with diaper pins. None of the confidences seem to justify the book's lugubrious atmosphere, nor does the main action, which shows Rosamond and her daughter Agnes groping for love with Clyde and his son Ray, county groundskeeper and freelance preacher. (Rosamond's traveling-salesman husband left years ago; Agnes has dropped out of college and a sort-of marriage to return to Goliath, though she's not quite sure why.) A more baroque plotline follows Vincent, radically unsettled by his discovery of Percy's corpse, in his reckless friendship with the equally troubled Cassie, who incites the boy to eat increasingly dangerous objects (culminating in a live mouse) and to rob houses with her. These stories, and many other subordinate ones, develop very slowly, and Woodring's tone adds to the sense of stasis—she mistakes portentousness for seriousness and proclamations for insights. The climax, complete with a parade, a baseball game and a cataclysmic fire, is much too obviously designed to ensure "that Goliath should end in devastation and miracle."
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