The co-author of a novel about the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands now turns her attention to scandals besetting a small Depression-era West Virginia town.
Barrows, who co-wrote the surprise bestseller The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008), takes a similarly panoramic approach to the insular hamlet of Macedonia, West Virginia, using multiple points of view with epistolary interludes. It’s 1938, and the owner of Macedonia’s primary employer, the American Everlasting sock factory, has just laid off 44 workers over the objection of Sol McKubin, longtime plant manager. This would never have happened had the Romeyns, once Macedonia’s most prominent family, not lost control of Everlasting after the original factory was destroyed by arson in 1920. The novel’s main source of suspense is the mystery surrounding that disaster. Vause Hamilton was alleged to have set the fire, killing himself and wrecking the future of his best friend, Felix Romeyn. Presumably the motive was theft: the safe was robbed and some of the money disappeared. Sol claimed Felix and Vause were in cahoots, but Sol’s motives are suspect: not only was he envious of the two golden boys, Vause and Felix, but he loved Felix’s sister, Jottie, who had eyes only for Vause. Now Jottie, who has never married, is raising Felix’s young daughters, Willa and Bird, the products of a short-lived marriage, while feckless but charming Felix disappears for long stretches. Willa, a whip-smart tomboy in the Scout Finch mold, is alarmed at her father’s flirtation with Layla, a Washington, D.C., debutante who is boarding at Jottie’s house and writing a history of Macedonia for the WPA Writers’ Project. The novel is too long: an initial section of exposition regarding Layla, a relatively superfluous character, could have been streamlined, and italicized flashbacks abound. The ironic contrast between Macedonia’s official and actual history is played to the hilt, and this unique corner of Americana—a mélange of Yankee and Southern cultures—is re-created as vividly as the very different Anglo-European milieu of Guernsey.
Undeniably entertaining but as slow-moving as a steamy Macedonian summer.