Here’s another happy-go-lucky loser to join the protagonists of Apology for Big Rod (1997) and Nice (2001); Holdefer’s fourth novel is less inventive than its predecessors.
Stanley Mercer is the product of a small-town American childhood; he’s back in the U.S. after a 14-year absence. His career in minor league baseball had taken him to Latin America and eventually France, where he’d lived for four years until his French girlfriend dumped him and his French boss fired him. Now he’s staying with his brother in Chicago without a clue what to do next, until his sister-in-law points out an ad. An elementary school in the small town of Legion, Iowa, is looking for a substitute teacher. Stan’s the man. You might think his colorful past would fill out his character, but no. He’s a blank, and a blank he remains. Holdefer casts around for items of interest in this dull town. Stanley is renting a farmhouse that used to be a meth lab until the cops closed it. He finds $640 in an old jacket; in a wasted opportunity, no tweaker returns to claim his stash. There’s a huge hog farm nearby which poses an excremental threat, fulfilled when raw sewage spills into the river. As for Stanley’s sex life, it’s unproductive. A Chicago nurse’s email suggestion that they sleep together meant literally that: no sex, as Stanley finds out too late. This leaves Amy Rawlings, the mother of one of Stanley’s students. She’s off-limits, a gut feeling tells Stanley, but when did he pay attention to them? Amy has a stormy marriage to a realtor who’s also a tweaker (no avoiding that meth) and a wild man. The only drama in the novel flows from that marriage, leaving Stanley on the periphery. The jig is up for him when the principal discovers he’s been teaching without a degree.
A more robust comic sense might have redeemed this plotless work; no such luck.