Quilt maven Benni Harper (State Fair, 2010, etc.) grapples with public responsibilities and private challenges when a sniper targets San Celina’s finest.
Hosting San Celina’s inaugural Memory Festival would be tough enough for any cowgirl. Benni has to corral the feisty ladies of the Coffin Star Quilt Guild, write narratives for her step-grandfather Isaac Lyons’s oral-history project and coordinate booths for everyone from the local Alzheimer’s Association to Blind Harry’s Bookstore, run by her best friend Elvia. But when a sniper injures two San Celina police officers, including Elvia’s brother Miguel, Benni develops her own memory issues. The shootings set Benni’s husband, San Celina Police Chief Gabe Ortiz, into a tailspin of Vietnam-era flashbacks so destructive that he moves into the guestroom for fear of injuring his wife. Benni doesn’t know which is worse: the fear of bullets that could rain down destruction at any minute, or the ghosts of the bullets that rained down death 30 years ago in Khe Sanh. As Benni grapples with the violent side of Gabe’s history, Lin Snider, a mysterious former nurse who says she wants to retire to California’s Central Coast, makes Benni wonder whether she’ll ever be free of reminders of the romantic side of her husband’s checkered past. Even the steady confidence of Grandma Dove and Aunt Garnet may not be able to keep Benni on an even keel this time.
Fowler pieces together questions of memory and identity so deftly that only purists will bemoan the dearth of clues or detection.