A small-town Missouri childhood informs a county prosecutor’s sense of purpose in this debut novel.
In 1994, Mary Lewellen, 32, enters a St. Louis bar and calmly confesses to stabbing her boyfriend to death while he was sleeping. The scene shifts to Mitchell, Missouri, 46 years earlier. Roscoe Hammer, 8, lives in this small town as part of a happy family with two younger siblings and a best friend named Fatty Gilchrist. His childhood turns dark. He stumbles onto a dead dog, and a measles outbreak leaves his younger sister, Hannah, with hearing loss and his mother depressed and angry. Roscoe befriends “Crazy” George Mabry, the dead dog’s owner and the town’s oddball, itinerant gardener. Mabry’s dog was probably run over by Bobby Cato, a local young thug who menaces Roscoe, but a kind neighbor intercedes. After several of these players end up dead or injured, Roscoe learns from an unlikely source information that exposes a long-secret relationship, an admission that also exposes a long-secret relationship. The town moves beyond these sorrows, however. At novel’s end, Roscoe, now a county prosecutor, returns to Mitchell in 1994 to deal with the death of his father, who posthumously provides more insight into what occurred those many years ago. Roscoe also meets up with Mary, whose motives and nature are transparent to Roscoe. First-time author Gallemore has conjured a rich, resonant growing-up tale that celebrates the depth and diversity of Middle America. His novel provides an array of lovely musing moments, including Roscoe’s summation near the end of the novel: “It’s the same with magic and life. It’s not what you see so much as what you can’t.” While subplots of a rushed affair and the Lewellen case are both intriguing, they’re frustratingly truncated. Overall, however, a striking, thought-provoking literary debut.
An evocative, elegiac bildungsroman.