In an ordinary small southern town, a war’s being waged—one that this amusing, sharp-eyed little novel makes extraordinarily vivid.
Nolan Vann knows just about everybody in Lincoln, Tennessee, and just about everybody knows him. They know that his mom killed herself. They know that his dad was a war hero and that his wife Laney was a cheerleader. They know she’s having an affair with Steve Pitts, who went to high school with both, and who might or might not be the father of Laney’s unborn child. They know Nolan’s not selling life insurance any more because Jimmy, his dad, who owns the business, fired him for ineptitude. So they’re guessing that Nolan’s life is falling apart and that he has no idea what to do about it. They’re right about much of that, but what they can’t guess—he’s so good at camouflaging the effort—is how hard he’s battling to find his way. Nolan himself sees negligible progress. And then through a series of tiny victories, some minor enough to be confused with defeats, Nolan begins to understand the redemptive power of certain time-honored ideas. Like accepting responsibility, for instance, or making hard choices, or taking risks for the sake of someone you love. A wise old friend, a survivor of WWI, tells him that “ditch panic” is what happens when a person goes a bit crazy from trench warfare. Or from getting clobbered by life’s slings and arrows, all those nonstop “miseries” the human condition is heir to. That’s what he’s had—a case of ditch panic—Nolan recognizes, after he’s finally figured out how to quell it.
Without sermonizing, but with warmth and wit—this is in large measure a funny book—McCown’s second (after The Member-Guest, 1995) restores some shine to “family values.”