WHEN ANGELS REST by Donald Harington

WHEN ANGELS REST

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The newest installment in Harington’s ongoing chronicle of the Arkansas Ozark community of Stay More (The Choiring of the Trees, 1991, etc.). This is a world that Mark Twain, or perhaps Booth Tarkington, would have recognized: an insular and embracing small town, despite the conflicts that define it at the time this novel’s events occur. World War II is underway, and as Harington’s preadolescent narrator “Dawny” (who, not quite believably, produces his own version of a daily newspaper) reports, the younger “Stay Morons” have divided themselves up into gangs labeled Allies, Axis, and Japs (“all for the sake of contests, baseball, war games, the play by which we find ourselves in the process of finding each other”). A lot happens in these alternately relaxed and overheated pages: the youngsters’ (all too representative) efforts to organize a town government and elect a “mare” (mayor) fall apart under their inability to bury their differences; local fathers and sons go off to war never to return home; a harmless mule is beaten to death, and a disrespected schoolteacher shows the stuff she’s made of (a very Twain-like episode); and in the novel’s culminating series of actions, a group of soldiers preparing for an invasion of Japan is billeted in the nearby hill country, Dawny finds and loses his first love, and a shocking act of violence shakes the sleepy Stay Morons painfully awake. Some of this is charming (Harington is at his best when contriving tall tales about mosquitoes who “outwit” those newfangled inventions called window screens); unfortunately, much more of it feels forced and miscalculated (Dawny is a little too bright and perceptive to be believed; and the melodramatic momentum of the closing pages undoes the careful pacing that produces many of Harington’s best effects, and furthermore seems to have come out of another novel entirely). Stay More remains an intermittently pleasant place to visit, but it never seems fully real, and you can’t imagine yourself, or anyone else, actually living there.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1998
ISBN: 1-887178-07-4
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998




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