An ex-convict, his former girlfriend, a rich horse-dealer’s spoiled son, a preacher, a hooker, some gamblers, two low-wattage hired hands—these and others are scattered through this diffuse American debut.
What now for Ray Dokes, released from prison and returning to the farmland on the northern shore of Lake Erie? The possibilities meander on. Will he rekindle his relationship with one-time girlfriend Etta Parr, who fights to save a failing farm and to care for her father, whose mind is increasingly errant? Or will Ray violate parole and face off with Sonny Stanton, the nemesis behind Ray’s prison term? (The reasons for the sentence become apparent long before the narrative spells them out.) Will Pete Culpepper’s farm also go bankrupt? Will Ray somehow connect with Stanton’s dim farmhands, Dean and Paulie, clarifying at last why they, their barroom cohorts, and Misty, the exotic dancer they lust after, are part of the strung-together story? With Pete’s character sketched in (his father was never there for him), and his objectives vague (he may go to Texas with Pete), only a jerrybuilt ending provides some answers as it ties up the splintered plot. To save the farms, Ray has a horse trainer dye a kidnapped racehorse’s coat with drugstore hair dye so the championship stallion can pass for Pete’s injured horse and run a race. The imposter wins, of course, and the take saves the farms. Some may find amusement in Dean and Paulie’s attempt to force the championship horse to ejaculate so they can get rich marketing its semen. Many will tire of Smith’s too frequent, folksy similes: “The blond departed the stage . . . like a man caught cheating at cards.” The Ontario-based Smith sets all of this against a finely detailed rural Canadian background.