As autumn descends on an Atlantic coastal resort town that’s seen better days, a quartet of characters haunted by the past collide in a moving novel.
Bausch (A Hole in the Earth, 2000) uses a showdown with Cecil Edwards, the town bully, to drive the narrative, and does so with a sense of the inevitable, albeit with a twist. But his real agenda is an examination of how we compensate for what’s missing in our lives: Cecil, who operates the Ferris wheel when he’s not pointing guns at people, is alone, confused and scared. When his adopted half-sister Lindsey comes to town, she becomes a civilizing influence. Also new on the scene are Sheriff David Caldwell, who attempts to broker an uneasy truce between Cecil and other locals, and Caldwell’s son Todd, who’s spent years locked up for accidentally killing his brother—then panicking and burying the body in the back yard. The corrosive effect of grief has taken a toll on Caldwell’s marriage, but the family can’t be made whole until Caldwell accepts his surviving son’s account of the tragedy. And Todd—who’s been free and hasn’t seen his family in two years—is still nursing wounds Caldwell unintentionally inflicted. Some readers may feel a bit cheated by how Cecil’s feud with the local coffee klatch is resolved. But by deftly sprinkling backstory into the narrative, Bausch (Creative Writing and Literature/Northern Virginia Community College) makes his characters’ histories compelling and conflicted. They’re frail and stubborn, yearning to be understood, but on their terms, determined not to be defined in the present by losses in the past.
Bausch gets the quirks and rhythms of a small town in decline exactly right.