Old friendships and broken dreams in small-town tales of love and betrayal.
Second-novelist Hammond (Going to Bend, 2003) revisits the hardscrabble landscape of coastal Oregon—and ends up in Hubbard, a highway-side township of truckers, used-car salesmen and career waitresses. Her story circles around two long-time residents, high-school friends Anita and Bunny, whose lives have taken somewhat different turns. While Anita, the high-school beauty queen, has married Bob, a lackluster provider who disappears on drinking binges for days on end, Bunny, pregnant in high school, has ended up with Hack, a charming man’s-man who’s supplied her and her daughter with a good home, dental care and a steady income from his job on the used car lot. Yet, as Hammond shows, luck doesn’t always move in one direction. While Anita has always been sure of Bob’s love, Bunny has always had doubts about whether she can keep Hack, a wheeler-dealer who attracts attention wherever he goes, and who now seems to have an eye on the rump of a pretty young thing at work. As the story unfolds, Hammond is deft at balancing the subtle tensions that make for complex characters: It turns out that Bob does love Anita but has also been having an affair with Warren, his childhood friend, on and off for years. And Hack does want to stray but is running from a secret far more serious than any infidelity. Anita and Bunny, whose jealousies run deeply alongside their old friendships, perform a delicate yet careworn dance of balancing their men, each other and the weight of their differently frustrated ambitions. This is, in many ways, a novel about dreams that don’t come true: All of these lives have been dealt raw deals—no one has great expectations, and many have diminished circumstances. Nonetheless, Hammond paints her characters with care, fondness and great dignity.
A touching, able, not-too-sentimental look at the ties that bind.